Winter IrondDM (Winner)!

Quickbeam

Explorer
Round 2, Set 1

Ingredients:
Blind dire ape
Dwarven stonework
Rod of the Python
Vicious circle
A very lucky sorcerer
Mistaken flag of truce


An Undelivered Message
This adventure is designed for characters levels 5-7, but can be easily adjusted to suit parties several levels lower or higher by adjusting the encounters and NPC’s.

HISTORY:
Nearly half a millennia ago, the dwarves of the great city Thoren-Bor managed to withstand the onslaught of an invading troll army. At that time, a druid named Auger Oakenhelm was one of his people’s primary scouts, delving into the dark reaches of the subterranean world. Auger’s only partner on these recon missions was his animal companion, an awakened dire ape called Vakri. Before any scouting foray Auger would cast foresight on himself, and on one occasion decided to do the same with Vakri. Far beyond the usual effects of the spell, though, the ape was inundated with an array of divergent visions surrounding events still to come, including many atrocities and the future death of Auger. As literally hundreds of images flashed through Vakri’s mind simultaneously, panic overwhelmed the ape and he gouged out his own eyes in an effort to block the visions. Miraculously, the flow of images subsided -- probably because Vakri’s brain was now occupied almost entirely with pain. Later, the blind dire ape relayed some of his visions to Auger, and in the subsequent days both were able to bear witness as many of the events Vakri had “seen” came to pass. The druid realized that his spell must have triggered a very special gift possessed by his companion…the gift of prophecy. Auger convinced Vakri to practice controlling and interpreting his visions through foresight, but no amount of reasoning could convince the ape to accept magical restoration of his eyesight.

For a time, there were those who doubted the ape’s ability. Then one autumn afternoon, Vakri was overcome by the strength and vivid detail present in a vision, which depicted dozens of trolls assaulting Thoren-Bor. Fearing that they were not capable of surviving such an attack on their own, the dwarves sought aid from the nearby gnomish city of Summerbaugh. The trolls did indeed arrive, but the allied forces of the dwarves and gnomes were well-prepared, and the battle quickly turned in their favor. The gnomish Field General (Onkyn) fought alongside the dwarven Commander (Haldur) throughout, using a giant constrictor to help protect them. In the waning moments of the fight, a mighty troll charged through the chaos and slew the gnome Field General and his snake. The dwarven Commander was stunned to see the huge serpent transform into a four-foot long wooden staff, and bent over to examine the object. A nearby gnome warrior saw Haldur standing over the prostrate figure of Onkyn, wielding the General’s powerful Rod of the Python, and screamed bloody murder. Within moments, the two armies were fully engaged, neither side fully aware of why. After a great deal of bloodshed, the dwarves and gnomes both had fortified positions of defense, and found themselves in a virtual standoff. The ranking gnome officer ordered that an ultimatum be sent to Haldur by animal messenger. Hastily, a large white kerchief was enchanted with a magic mouth spell, and placed in the talons of a falcon, which was sent flying across the battlefield. The magic mouth was set to trigger at the sight of Haldur’s mithril shirt, and speak, “Return the Rod or there can be no peace.” Alas the falcon’s kerchief never reached the dwarven Commander. As the animal circled the dwarves from above it dropped its cargo and word was sent to Haldur that a white “flag” had been delivered. With news of this mistaken flag of truce, Haldur and his men began to move back onto the battlefield with the intentions of claiming their dead. The gnomes waited for any sign that the dwarven Commander was going to act in accordance with their ultimatum, and with none forthcoming, a volley of arrows and alchemist fires was launched. Haldur fell dead with this onslaught, and once again both sides were seized in the throws of bloodlust and rage.

The aftereffects of that day still linger in Thoren-Bor and Summerbaugh. In most civilized parts of the world, gnomes and dwarves share a peaceful co-existence, but such is not (and may never be) the case herein. Skirmishes still break out between the two races, and a loathing that has been cultivated for several generations burns strong. For their part, the gnomes of Summerbaugh left the battlefield with Haldur’s helm and armor in their possession. These items have become the epitome of their hatred and distrust of the dwarves, and they are guarded like relics of great power. The dwarves returned home with somewhat more than their gnomish counterparts. Not only did they carry back the Rod of the Python, but they also kept the “flag” which had falsely offered peace. Being akin to a large scepter, the Rod was given to Thoren-Bor’s King, and came to signify dwarven might. Meanwhile, the flag was mounted behind the throne as an enduring reminder of hostility against the gnomes. Most importantly, though, all the dwarves of Thoren-Bor now knew that Vakri truly did possess the gift of precognition.

In the years that followed, Auger helped Vakri hone his ability so that he was able to “see” without the aid of foresight. They were moved into an isolated cave and given every luxury. The dwarves revered the ape, and soon they simply began calling him the Oracle. Many of the events the Oracle foretold came to pass and time marched on. Auger died in a terrible rockslide, just as Vakri had seen years earlier and the dwarves realized something: the ape was getting quite old, and despite his gift he was mortal. In response, the dwarves decided to employ the power of a wish spell to grant Vakri incredibly long life. Unfortunately, as is often the case with wish spells, there was a price. The Oracle did seem to stop aging and he could still predict the future, but now he only did so by uttering cryptic riddles in the druidic tongue. Two druids were appointed to always attend the Oracle going forward. They took turns, with one recording Vakri’s bizarre predictions by using stone shape to etch runes in a chronological pattern across the cave walls, while the other spent countless hours trying to interpret the meaning hidden within this hieroglyphic dwarven stonework.

SET UP:
Today, enmity still reigns in the small expanse of land which houses Thorn-Bor and Summerbaugh. The gnomes have not let their quarrel with the dwarves interfere with their relationships among the other people of the region. As is the case with gnomes elsewhere, these folk produce many fine jewelers, alchemists, engineers and scholars. The dwarves, however, have grown more reclusive as their society finds itself bound to the almost incoherent musings of a creature they no longer understand. There are those outside the walls of Thoren-Bor who spread rumors of a mysterious Oracle living among the dwarves, but none who can actually claim to have seen this being.

With the birth of this generation, the druids attending to Vakri have taken to only speaking druidic themselves. Wholly devoted to their charge, they believe the key to his visions lay hidden in their unique form of speech…that perhaps something is lost in translating the riddles. Therefore, King Urick Stoutfist has appointed a sorcerer to act as interpreter between the Oracle’s druids and the city’s populace. Quite obviously, this position entails a great deal of importance and responsibility…but even moreso, it provides control. As fate would have it, there is only one sorcerer who’s lucky enough to have a knack for languages (he just happens to know comprehend languages and tongues), an otherwise unpleasant fellow named Kragen. And while there are priests in Thoren-Bor who could serve this task, King Urick believed it was the best use for Kragen’s innate abilities. Over the past 20 years, as his power and influence have grown, Kragen has come to realize that he’s not content just controlling the flow of information for his people – he wants to rule them. Fortune has recently provided the means to this end for Kragen, making him a very lucky sorcerer indeed. First, Kragen has managed to correctly guess the meaning of several visions lending credibility to his words. Second, the health of Urick has begun to decline quite rapidly. Finally, the Oracle’s most recent prophecy has suggested a method of removing the King’s only heir to the throne, Prince Gren.

Kragen is perhaps the third most powerful dwarf in Thoren-Bor, and its citizens already look to him for guidance, even if only because he translates the Oracle’s precognitive visions. If no heir were to be available upon the King’s death, Kragen would likely be able to assume the throne without much direct opposition. Kragen has been afraid of creating an outright false prophecy to remove or harm the reputation of either the King or Prince. He fears that others with the power to magically translate the druidic mumblings or the runic dwarven stonework in Vakri’s chamber, may elect to do so in such instances, crippling his credibility and possibly costing him his lofty status. It is with this knowledge, that Kragen intentionally twists the Oracle’s prophecy of the Prince undertaking a dangerous quest to bring change to Thoren-Bor. Upon hearing the cryptic vision pertaining to Gren, the sorcerer tells all of the assembled dwarves that unless the Prince leaves, the mountain city will endure an end to its way of life. And so it is, that Prince Gren and his two most trusted guards, leave Thoren-Bor with heavy hearts to avert the predicted downfall of their home.


PC HOOKS:
1) It is not uncommon for characters to seek information or clues which might lead them to an item or artifact they desire/need. Similarly, a party member may need to acquire information that only someone with the true gift of divination can provide. In either case, the party might have heard rumors surrounding an alleged dwarven Oracle, and seek out Thoren-Bor.
2) Prince Gren has traveled for several sorrowful days, before being overcome with doubt about his current path. He has decided to make a valiant attempt to circumvent his own fate (or at least the one Kragen falsely revealed) by bringing an end to the hostilities between his people and the gnomes of Summerbaugh. Gren happens to be near the PC’s location at this points (or even in the same town) and sends one of his two guards, Liamar, to hire a capable group of adventurers. They will be asked to steal the mistaken flag of truce from Thoren-Bor, in exchange for a fair sum of gold and one magical weapon or suit of armor each. If any of the characters are gnomish, Gren warns them to stay behind or adopt a very convincing disguise. The Prince plans to approach Summerbaugh alone, carrying only the “flag” as an offering of peace.
3) King Urick has decided that his dying wish is to establish a lasting legacy of pride for his people, by recovering Haldur’s armor and helm from the gnomes. He sends his emissaries into the neighboring cities and towns, seeking to hire adventurers that might be able to successfully complete this task. If the party is unfamiliar with the events which transpired 500 years ago (Knowledge Local check DC 15), the dwarf approaching the PC’s portrays an entirely one-sided narrative of the history, painting the Summerbaugh gnomes in a very poor light. If any of the characters are dwarven, he will particularly appeal to this PC, referring to his King’s failing health repeatedly. The PC’s are offered much the same price as they are in Hook #2 for their efforts.

RUNNING THE ADVENTURE:
A great deal depends on the initial Hook pursued by the PC’s.
** If the party arrives at Thoren-Bor of their own accord seeking an audience with the Oracle, they will be directed to Kragen is relatively short order. Any attempts to gather information or converse with the citizenry, will reveal that King Urick is gravely ill and not expected to survive much longer. Also, there is much concern over the recent departure of Prince Gren, who left the dwarven city to avoid bringing about the downfall of Thoren-Bor as foretold by the Oracle. Regardless of what information the party seeks, Kragen will agree to ask the Oracle on their behalf after some measure of coercion or bribe. This should not be made easy, and the sorcerer will hem and haw before acquiescing. Under no circumstances should the PC’s be permitted to enter the Oracle’s chamber at this point. DM’s can play up the angle that for centuries only the dwarves have been allowed direct access to the Oracle, or use any reason that seems suitable. After 10-15 minutes, Kragen will emerge from the Oracle’s cave and tell the party that the information/item they seek lies several days away in the midst of the marshes. This is just a ruse to eliminate the PC’s. DM’s can handle subsequent events by choosing to have the party coincidentally meet Prince Gren along the road (see next bullet point), or by fighting their way through a few of days travel before they become suspicious that they were misled.

** If the party is hired by Prince Gren, they must begin by going to Thoren-Bor. The Prince will have told them that the “flag” is kept in a guarded chamber just off the throne room, where visitors and curiosity seekers may view it. When the party manages to reach this room, they will find that the flag has been moved. If the party questions any of the royal guards, successful Diplomacy, Bluff or Intimidate checks (DC 20) will reveal that the sorcerer Kragen has taken the flag. The PC’s will be forced to locate Kragen (not tough to do) and obtain the flag from him. Having correctly interpreted another recent vision from the Oracle, Kragen expects that someone will come for the flag and he wishes to question them himself. Regardless of what is said between the sorcerer and PC’s, Kragen will eventually yield a phony flag to the party claiming that he wishes to help the vanquished Prince. He claims that the Oracle indicated doom lay along the road they traveled hence, and suggests another path back to Gren. Of course, this path is leads through any area known for rockslides and cave-ins since Kragen wants anything but success for the Prince, and hopes the party will never reach him even though they carry a fake flag. The party should realize they’ve been lied to by the sorcerer and return to confront him. If the PC’s began on Hook #1, but meet the Prince, he may convince them to undertake this mission, and the above events unfold.
** If the party is hired by King Urick, he suggests an audience with the Oracle to reveal the location of Haldur’s armor and helm within Summerbaugh, and the best means of reaching it safely. Here again, Kragen will steer the PC’s awry because he fears that success may invigorate the dying King, and his patience has grown thin. Once again, the party may suspect an intentional lie on the sorcerer’s part and return to face him.

All of these scenarios and lies center around two vicious circles: those that Kragen has created for himself, and the cycle of hatred and distrust between the dwarves and gnomes. His authority is only respected as the interpreter of the Oracle’s prophecies, meaning that he cannot issue any statement of value without first meeting with the Oracle. Additionally, his lies begin to necessitate other lies, and all of these untruths must be marginally focused around recorded riddles, should anyone seek to question his word.

CONCLUSIONS:
At some point, the party should seek to meet the Oracle directly. Any use of comprehend languages will reveal that much of Kragen’s statements have been lies, for the runic dwarven stonework holds the true prophecies. If Gren succeeds in bringing the flag to Summerbaugh, he is escorted into the Council Chamber (where Haldur's armor happens to reside) and the magic mouth spell finally triggers, ending centuries of debate over what happened. The PC's are heroes and rewarded admirably by both races.

ENCOUNTERS:
These will vary beyond the rockslide to suit the party level.
 

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mythago

Adventurer
Thanks, incognito! A lot of the problems at the end are, I think, the result of Too Much Editing on my part. (You're right--300' is way too short. I don't know *what* I was thinking.)

I was also unclear that the party was going to be told to leave their items on the ship when they arrived. You know:

"Great! Put all your stuff in this chest, and you can wear these robes."

"WHAT?!"

"Uh...weren't you told? You can't go over there flashing swords and bracers. They'll know you're not monks in an instant."

I admit I also like the idea of a dwarf grumpily stomping around in ill-fitting monk's robes. "Quit starin'! You lot never seen a dwarven monk before?"
 




incognito

First Post
Sorry for the delay, folks. I know who the winner is, but I want to give constructive critism, and show a clear reason for my judgement, and it's difficult in this case.

both entries were decent, not outstanding, but decent.
 
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Majicthise

First Post
I enjoyed both entries for this round. From the looks of it, I enjoyed them more than the judge (I found them to be better than decent, but then again, I don't have to pick a winner).

In response to your question, Quickbeam, I know that all of the boards were shut down for a while today, because of "log-offs." I came on after the problems, but it might explain any lags or delays.
 

Quickbeam

Explorer
Majicthise said:
I enjoyed both entries for this round. From the looks of it, I enjoyed them more than the judge (I found them to be better than decent, but then again, I don't have to pick a winner).

In response to your question, Quickbeam, I know that all of the boards were shut down for a while today, because of "log-offs." I came on after the problems, but it might explain any lags or delays.

Thanks on both counts. It was pretty frustrating earlier this morning, when I ran into login and posting problems.
 

Nifft

Penguin Herder
Majicthise said:
I enjoyed both entries for this round.

Thank you!

I wish I could tell Quickbeam that I loved his entry -- but I'm too tired to read through it. :cool: ( <-- me at work, sleeping behind sunglasses)

I didn't really get much sleep last night.

-- Nifft, tired little penguin

PS: Quickbeam, I noticed a "Database Error" in place of the boards around 10:AM. Perfect timing, eh?
 

Quickbeam

Explorer
Nifft:
I'm right there with you. I've read your entry, and was impressed at how thorough and detailed you were. Best of luck!!

And with regards to the "Database Error" I'll just say that timing is everything :(.
 

incognito

First Post
Round 2, set 1

Quickbeam vs Nifft

Quickbeam and Nifft have submitted similar adventures – which is to be expected as several of the ingredients (Mistaken flag of truce) point to an adventure where our heroes, the PCs, must set to rights a misunderstanding.

First pass: Quickbeam’s web of deceit is more devious, and has more imaginative resolution – the White flag with the magic mouth, triggered to speak when the armor was present is a very tidy wrap up. I like tidy! I also like the Gnomes vs. the dwarves angle, and how the Blind Dire Ape is a central figure in the story. BUt why not have the Ape's tearing out of his own eye's distort the predictions? Quickbeam’s use of Dwarven stone work is an unusual stretch of the ingredient – I liked it for its creativity – but I can’t help but feeling that it was too much of a stretch.

I liked Nifft’s timeline approach better – the PCs can be inserted into his proposed adventure at various times using Nifft’s various hooks. His mistaken flag of truce is quite a bit more believable than Quickbeam’s – even if it is less ingenious. Dwarven stone work is incorporated into the story, in a good, if straightforward manner. I also like the scenery of the island, although it has nothing to do with the ingredient s, it IS pretty (and the 2 tribes are “survivor”- esque)!

I’m not so sure that either sorcerer is very lucky. One is stranded on an island with magical loot of questionable value, with the possibility to two tribes hunting for him, and no wilderness survival skills. The other is a walking a fine line -> creatively interpreting divinations from a temporal oracle, who could reveal him at any time.

Both rods of the python were plot devices, pure and simple – neither added much directly (ie WHY a rod of the python – IronDM hopefuls should always ask themselves that question). If I had to pick, I’d pick Nifft’s because at least his stays a rod – Quickbeams is a staff for a brief moment :)

A quick mention of the good use of NPCs - particularly Niffts. Not only are their motivations clear as a result of back story, but also because Nifft spells out explicitly how they will react to individuals. good job Nifft!

I didn’t like either stories viscous circle – I was looking for a CLEAR: “chain of events in which the response to one difficulty creates a new problem that aggravates the original difficulty” Nifft's got a conflict that becomes more thorny as the result of both sides losing magic items. Not especially viscious. Quickbeam’s got the sorcerer’s liberally interpreted visions, which if the party overcomes obstacles he’s set in their way, causes him to craft increasingly desperate interpretations to preserve his original lie. I guess I like Quickbeam’s a bit better...but not much.

I don’t like a semi-powerful dwarven sorcerer without a great in-story reason, because of the racial CHA penalty. And a flock of dwarven druids, although druids have a decent amount of stone affecting spells, is somewhat of a reach. Also, it feels like Quickbeam could've gone higher level with this one, and gotten away with it.

I HATE Quickbeam’s conclusion paragraph: “Any use of comprehend languages will reveal that much of Kragen’s statements have been lies, for the runic dwarven stonework holds the true prophecies.” Don’t have it be this easy Quickbeam! That's a L1 spell! After all that set up – have the party figure it out – or have the ape give an odd divination to the party directly (a Dwarf, or a Druid/Ranger – the DM can make the fit!) . And his encounters section seems unneeded (all 11 words of it). I’m not really fond of Nifft’s conclusions either, though. I suspect in all likelihood the party will be fire balled to death before they find the Sorcerer (flying/invisible), or just team up with one side or the other and take out the opposing tribe (survivor style – and probably earn a nice chunk of XP too :D )


So, what are left with? Well...I was left with my first pass impression: Quickbeam’s plot is more cleverly devious –and is more likely to run true to intent, and so I award the round to him. Funny, because for a full 4 hours, I had sided with Nifft. Oh, and length – guys, seriously. Do what you have to do to get it down, but get it down. My eyes glazed over on both entries. If one had been 500 words shorter, it was so close, they shorter entry would’ve won.

Please post exposition
 
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incognito

First Post
mythago and seasong:

Can you both go tomorow?? Your ingredients are still brewing.


On the "decent, not outstanding" comment: Both entires were better than decent, I'll 'fess up! :)
 
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mythago

Adventurer
I don't envy having to have made THAT judgement. You guys both rocked. Congrats, Quickbeam!

incognito: ready when you are.
 

seasong

First Post
Wednesday morning, 8:00am CST, I will be ready anytime from that point forward. As long as we start after that, when ever is most convenient for mythago (8am, noon, whatever) is good for me.
 
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Majicthise

First Post
Congrats to both Quickbeam and Nifft. From Incognito's remarks it's pretty clear that this was a really close one. Good luck in the next round, Quickbeam.
 

Quickbeam

Explorer
I'm going to combine my exposition with some brief replies to our honorable judge in this post...but first, let me just say WOW!! It was a very close contest, and I feel genuinely fortunate to have prevailed against Nifft in this battle. Incidentally, I think he may have had the single best entry overall in the opening round. I look forward to meeting either seasong or mythago in the Finals, and can't wait to see their list of ingredients tomorrow morning ;)!

EXPOSITION:
Among all the ingredient lists given to me in the two Iron DM tournaments in which I've participated, this was my second favorite group of theme elements. The blind dire ape practically jumped off the page and screamed O-R-A-C-L-E to me, and I loved the idea of recording the ape's prophecies in rune form as a neat tie in to the dwarven stonework. Right off the bat two ingredients had become integral parts of my story. I spent more time detailing the development of these items than I should have, but the images were too clear for me to skimp.

As Incognito mentions in the critique of our round, the mistaken flag of truce forces part of the plot design by dictating that somewhere along the line a misunderstanding has occurred. I decided to have some fun here. First by pitting traditional allies in dwarves and gnomes against each other, and second by having the flag fail to deliver its magic mouth message to create the mistaken peace offering. Also, the gnomes made sense IMO, because as a people they favor snakes and burrowing mammals, and equipping their Field General with the Rod of the Python fit nicely. It also offered a fantastic means of creating the initial battlefield confusion. So I had the ape predict an invasion which would force the dwarves to seek assistance from their gnomish neighbors.

Now I had a clear foundation for my adventure. The dwarves and gnomes hate and distrust one another; both sides possess a key to solving the years of confusion; the dwarves have become reliant on a blind ape Oracle who can only speak in cryptic riddles; the precitions are recorded by druids through stone shape creating a cave filled with runes. So I crafted Kragen as the dwarves go-between with the Oracle, granting him a position of power and influence...and a desire for more. I felt he worked well as both the adventure's primary villain, and the very lucky sorcerer. The vicious circle/cycle then became Kragen bringing false prophecies to increase his power; raising questions among the dwarves; which leads to more meetings with the Oracle; forcing more lies to keep the house of cards intact.


JUDGMENT:
As I stated above, I'll be brief.
** I appreciate all of the positive feedback with regards to the magic mouth flag and armor scenario; the gnomes vs. the dwarves backdrop; and blind Oracle ape. The idea that the physical act of blinding might distort the visions never occurred to me...but I like it now :D.
** I'm glad you found the runes to be a clever use of the dwarven stonework element, but I'm not sure why you feel it was a stretch. Perhaps you can elaborate at some point?
** I thought my sorcerer was very lucky to find himself in the perfect position to assume leadership of Thoren-Bor. However, I would agree that placing him in the party's crosshairs and forcing him to creatively interpret divinations make him somewhat less lucky.
** My mention of the Rod of the Python as a staff at one point was intentional -- foolish, but intentional nonetheless. I just wanted to use a descriptive synonym for the item. Nothing more, nothing less. Sorry for the confusion.
** I agree that Nifft made better use of a couple elements; had a better flow/pace to his entry; and presented more vivid scenery at the outset. And I agree to HATE my concluding paragraph with you!! This was an unintended snafu, the result of a late rush to post my adventure during site issues. There was more to this paragraph, but I guess that doesn't matter now.

Thanks for the constructive criticism and feedback :)!!
 

Quickbeam

Explorer
Nifft, mythago & Majikthise:

Thank you for the kind congratulatory wishes. That round was a nailbiter to say the very least!! In fact, this tournament has played out like a mirror image of the last one for me thus far. A pretty solid First Round entry with a story that I really liked, followed by a shaky Second Round entry, which left me feeling lucky to have advanced. Now I just have to hope for a repeat performance of the Holiday tournament in the Finals, where I did my best work to date.

And when the next competition rolls around, I'll be looking to skip the Second Round of battles (without losing or forfeiting) somehow. Do they make "Get Out of This Battle Free" or "Go Directly to the Finals" cards ;)?
 
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