Tuesday, August 27, 2019

2019 One Page Dungeon Contest: Part 3 - Comments on the Winning Entries (#11 - #20)

This is a continuation of my comments and notes regarding the winning entries for the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest. Part 1 discussed my approach to scoring, and in Part 2 I commented on the Top 10 winning entries. This part will focus on the #11 - #20 ranked entries. As a bonus, at the bottom, I provide two drink recipes for some stuff I drank at night while I was judging some of the entries.

As a reminder, these are my thoughts/scores only and don't reflect those of the other judges. Also, any critiques pointed out below are not intended to call anyone out or say that anyone did anything wrong, but as general advice and pointers for people looking to enter the contest in the future. All of the judges' scores are different: Out of my Top 10 scores, only half actually made it into the "official" Top 10 (although, due to ties, I had 12 "Top 10" adventures). Another four of mine Top 10 were ranked in the #11 - #20 spots, two were ranked between #20 and #30, and one of my Top 10 got an Honorable Mention (which I suspect means I was the only judge who voted for it, but I'm not sure). My point is that other judges will see things differently, and truth be told, if I were to go back and judge these today versus when I did, I might score the entries differently just based on how I felt that day. That's why I try to read every entry at least twice, and up to three times each, on different days, to make sure that I'm giving everyone a fair chance and that my fatigue or mood isn't a factor in the scoring.

Here's a look at the #11 - #20 entries:

  • Obolosk, "The Forgotten Abbey."
    • Although this just missed being in the Top 10 by averaging the scores of all of the judges, I actually ranked it higher, at #7 in my scoring. 
    • I gave this one a perfect score for Layout and also for my "Other" score (which as a reminder is a score that I give to really creative entries that just have something extra to them - I don't weigh it that heavily in my rankings, but it makes a difference), and a near-perfect score in "Usefulness."
    • I gave this entry above average scores for Premise and Spelling/Grammar (there were a few spelling errors which ended up bringing down the overall score)
    • While it doesn't have a map in the traditional sense, I found the creative use of a deck of playing cards to create a dungeon on-the-fly really fun and unique. It did take a while to get the hang of it at first, requiring more than one read-through to really get it, but once I did, I thought it was really original, and something that could be used pretty easily at the table "as is." 
  • Dylan Barker, "An Awakening at the Old Well." 
    • This is a fun adventure that could be run pretty quickly with little prep on the part of the DM
    • I liked the map and accompanying drawings quite a bit, which helped the Layout get a good score from me
    • One thing that threw me off about this was remnants of the diary - there was an intriguing clue written in it, but it never seemed to really pay off elsewhere in the adventure. While the intent may have been to have the DM fill in those details him-or-herself, even a short line of "The DM can fill in the details" or something like that would have made it obvious for a first-time DM that this particular clue needs fleshing out. 
  • Stephen Thompson, "Cross My Heart, Hope to Die."
    • This was another of my top-scoring entries (I ranked it #3 in my scores)
    • I gave this one a perfect score for Spelling/Grammar and really high scores for Premise, Layout, and Usefulness, and high-above average scores for Map and Characters. 
    • One thing that I did mention in my "notes" section was that the layout was way too crowded with text (I really dislike "wall of text" entries, which fortunately are much less common than they were when I first started judging the contest), but the crowded text with this entry, combined with the background image on the margins does make it a little difficult to read, and on reflection I could have dinged it a bit more on the Layout, but overall I think what could help is just a slightly darker colored font - it's just a little too light and that makes reading difficult
    • I loved the use, and explanation, of skill checks and how to apply them in the game - that kind of stuff is really useful for first-time DMs
    • My scoring on this is a perfect example of how my weighting of the different categories affects things - although this one only received one "perfect" 10/10 score in my rankings, enough of the other categories received 7's or 8's and that drove the weighted score up to #3 overall. 
  • Eshan Mitra, "The Mad Artificer's Invention."
    • I liked the map and thought the illustrations for this entry had a fun kind of charm to them, and I gave it top marks for Spelling/Grammar.
    • There's a lot of info in this and some of it is a bit complex (not in a bad way - it's just different from standard adventures, which can be a good thing), and I thought that a different layout could have been used to convey the information in a more clear way. 
    • The above was what caused me to rank this a bit lower - it's not something that can be picked up and run immediately without a lot of prep work, but the layout and design don't help a novice DM with doing that. 
  • Vance Atkins, "Now and When."
    • This was one of my top-scoring entries, earning a perfect score for Spelling/Grammar and very high scores for categories like the Premise, the Layout, and the Usefulness.
    • I really liked the time travel idea, which can be really fun, especially for a one-off adventure. 
    • I also liked the random time-travel effects table - there were some unique and fun ideas on there. 
    • Overall, I mentioned in my notes that the adventure could use "a little more polish" and it would have scored even higher. An example of that would have been to blow out the time travel effects table to include even more entries, with crazier time-travel ideas. 
  • David and Lauren Schirduan, "Broken Factory."
    • In my notes I mentioned that this was "fun, creative, and different." 
    • High marks for Spelling/Grammar and the Premise, and above-average scores for Layout, Map, and Usefulness
    • I liked how different this was, and also small details like notes on how to "fix" any broken parts, and including different combinations of "fixes" such as combat, feats of strength, or engineering knowledge. 
  • Luke Le Moignan, "Shub Rhadaman."
    • I loved so much about this - in my notes I wrote, "suitably evocative imagery, good descriptions, creative characters/encounters, etc." 
    • This one received perfect scores from me for "Spelling/Grammar" and "Other" and really high scores in Premise and Characters.
    • What hurt the score (from my scoring) was both the Layout, which was usable but quite utilitarian in contrast to how creative the content was, and also the lack of a Map. I realize it takes place on a train, but having an image of the train would have helped break up the text, which in turn would have probably increased the visual appeal of the entire adventure (and raised the Layout score) and also would help a novice DM be able to run the adventure quickly at the table without needing to search online for an appropriate map to use. 
  • Benjamin Rowe, "What Lies Beneath the Well."
    • This was another entry that made my "Top 10" based on its weighted score. 
    • While I didn't give this entry a perfect score in any particular category, it got a near-perfect score in one category and in three others it had a very high score, and using my weighted average, that was enough to raise it to a top-10 spot in my rankings. 
    • I liked the Premise of this a lot, as well as the Layout, the Map, and the Spelling/Grammar was also good. 
    • In my notes I mentioned that it had a really good premise (although the wizard's motivation was a little lacking), and that I liked the map and the illustrations. I also noted that a numbering system could help a novice DM be able to navigate the adventure better - not that it would be run in order, but just to help tell the different encounters apart when making notes, etc. 
  • Roger SG Sorolla, "Yesterday's Dungeon... Tomorrow." 
    • This entry has a really fun, creative premise and I gave it a high score for that category in my judging. 
    • I love the fun of time-travel adventures and Roger's execution on the theme was good. 
    • I gave this a perfect score for Spelling/Grammar.
    • I thought the descriptions were pretty well done and would make it pretty easy to run this at the table.  
    • What brought the scoring down a little bit, for me, was the layout. It's pretty good but could use a bit of improvement. I felt the map could have been bigger, but one thing that jumped out to me at the time, as well as again just now when reviewing this again, were the different names of all the different NPCs that are kind of just buried in the layout, making it difficult to read back and find out the details for each NPC. A short table with the different names and a description of who they are would have helped a lot for a DM to keep track of who everybody is. 
  • Wordman, "The Gold Canals of Irid's Vault"
    • I liked the Layout of this one, and also I gave it a perfect score for Spelling/Grammar 
    • The map is pretty good, but some of it is very small and hard to read or count the number of squares without increasing the size quite a bit
    • Overall, the concept is pretty good and it has some fun, creative ideas. 
    • For me what brought the score down was the limited information on the guards/adversaries (there's just one line mentioning that they have to be things tough enough to survive in the environment), and very limited information regarding the creator of the Vaults. 
    • Additionally, some basic set-up to get an adventuring group to the Vaults would be helpful for a novice DM, as well as some rough level guidelines. 

Some Drink Recipes
Long-time readers know that when I post, I usually include a note about where I am, what I'm listening to, and what I'm drinking. My personal Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are full of updates on what beers or wines I'm drinking or what cocktails I'm making while listening to whatever new vinyl I've picked up. When I tweeted about my judging the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest, I mentioned two drinks that I made (one alcoholic, one not). Here are some recipes for you - these are really easy but can be used as a starting point to experiment with different infusions and homemade syrups if you get interested in that. 

  • Cold Brew Coffee Old Fashioned
    • Description: 
      • Many people think of an Old Fashioned as the name of a specific drink with bourbon, but it's not. It's actually a style of drink, and the proper name would be "An Old Fashioned Whiskey Cocktail." It's "old-fashioned" because it's how people way back used to order this specific style of drink if they didn't want any of the "new-fangled" ingredients that were being starting to be used in mixed drinks, such as Vermouth and other fortified wines. 
      • An Old Fashioned Cocktail is simply just a base spirit, sugar, water, and bitters. That's it. Maybe you add some kind of citrus twist if you're feeling fancy. And, you can make it with any spirit you want (an Old Fashioned Gin Cocktail is delicious, as is one with Tequila, for example). 
      • For this version, I subbed out the spirit for something that would help keep me more alert while I was judging. Also, rather than muddling a sugar cube with bitters and water (the traditional method), I chose to use a syrup because it incorporates quicker. 
    • Ingredients: 
      • 2 oz Cold Brew Coffee (ideally chilled already)
      • 0.25 - 0.5 oz homemade Rich Vanilla Syrup (depending on how sweet you want it)*
      • 2 dashes bitters (I used some homemade Chocolate-Cinnamon Bitters that I made, but you can use Angostura if that's all you have, or some kind of Orange Bitters would also help brighten it up a bit)
      • An orange
      • Ice
    • Equipment:
      • An Old Fashioned or Rocks Glass (or any short, but wide stubby glass)
      • Spoon
      • Vegetable peeler or a small pairing knife 
    • Method:
      • Add the bitters, syrup, and coffee into your glass, with ice (ideally one big cube or sphere if you have those; otherwise, just use whatever kind of ice you have in your freezer, but remember that the more ice you use, the longer it will take the ice to melt and diffuse your drink) and stir until well-chilled (depending on the kind of ice you're using, but about 20-30 revolutions should suffice)
      • Cut a thick peel of orange (not a slice - you don't want the flesh) and squeeze it gently over the drink to spray the oils across the top, then rub the peel across the rim of the glass and drop it in. 
    • * Homemade Rich Vanilla Simple Syrup
      • Combine 1 cup of sugar (you can use regular white granulated sugar but in my case I used Turbinado sugar; Demerara would also be good) with a half-cup of water in a small sauce pan and heat very gently until the sugar dissolves (you don't want it to boil), stirring constantly. 
      • Take off the heat and add one split vanilla bean and let it steep until the syrup cools. 
      • Remove the vanilla bean and strain the syrup through cheesecloth or a coffee filter into a glass jar with a seal (I use small flip-top bottles but a mason jar also works well). 
      • Make sure to label your syrup (masking tape and a Sharpie work great) and also date it - it will last between 2-4 weeks, but keep an eye out for floating mold once you pass the 2-week mark. 
  • Coffee-Infused Averna Amaro
    • Description: 
      • Averna Amaro is an Italian amaro, which is a bitter herbal liqueur. An amaro is a category, not a brand name, and while it specifically only refers to Italian drinks of this kind, other countries do make them (but they're called something different in those cases). 
      • This category of drinks is traditionally consumed neat after dinner as a digestif, but they are gaining popularity with bartenders for use in cocktails. 
      • Amaros come in a wide variety of different styles (light, medium, Fernet, Vermouth, China, Rhabarbaro, etc.), usually with an alcohol content of 16% - 40%. 
      • Averna falls into the "Medium" category. with an alcohol content of 29% and produced from a recipe created in Sicily in 1868. It's normally described as thick, sweet, and herbally bitter. 
      • I infused a bottle with whole coffee beans a while back to use in a riff on a deconstructed White Russian cocktail I created for a friend, and I had a bunch of the coffee-infused Averna left over, so I drank some one night while judging. 
    • Ingredients:
      • 1 750 ml bottle of Averna Amaro
      • 1/2 Cup of Whole Coffee Beans (experiment with different kinds based on what you like - dark roast, medium roast, etc. - I wouldn't use flavored beans, however - the artificial flavorings won't work well, and will most likely not even been noticeable given the bitterness of the Averna)
    • Equipment:
      • A large Mason jar or other non-reactive container with a tight-fitting lid
    • Method:
      • Pour the Averna into the jar and add the coffee beans. 
      • Cover and keep in a cool, dry place for at least 24 hours. 
      • After 24 hours, taste to determine if the coffee flavor is where you want it - you can continue doing this every 8 hours but I wouldn't let it go too much longer, as you'll start to strip out all of the really harsh, bitter parts of the coffee. 
      • Strain back into the bottle through a fine sieve, and make sure to label the bottle correctly so you don't accidentally mix it up with a regular bottle of Averna Amaro. 
    • Serving: 
      • I just drank mine neat while judging, but some people serve their Amaro with a citrus twist or a citrus wedge, on the rocks, or even with soda water. 
      • Averna Amaro is often used to make a "Black Manhattan," which swaps out the Sweet Vermouth for Averna Amaro. You can do the same thing with this coffee-infused version for a unique, coffee-inspired twist to a classic. 
Cheers! Stay tuned for my thoughts on the remaining winning entries in a future blog post, and please let me know your thoughts on the above entries, particularly if you entered this year's contest or if you have used any of these adventures in one of your gaming sessions. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Listening: "Let It Flow (The Jazz Mix)" by Naoki Kenji
Drinking: Pasadena tap water

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Gaming Communities in the Absence of Google Plus: Where Are They?

It's been quite a while since Google Plus shut down, and in its absence, it seems the vibrant community of gamers, particularly those of so-called old-school games and their retro-clones (OD&D, B/X, 1E, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, B/X EssentialsLamentations of the Flame Princess, and way too many others to list...) fragmented quite a bit.

I used to enjoy going onto Google Plus, where I was a combination "lurker" and "infrequent commenter and sharer" and seeing what was happening in the gaming community, and what ideas people were sharing. Now, there are so many different places that people seemed to migrate to, but the sharing of, and particularly the commenting on, ideas seems to have slowed a bit from those old G+ days. It could be that I'm just not using the proper platforms, but I joined a bunch of different gaming groups on Facebook, and also joined MeWe (which I had understood was where the majority of the old G+ community was going to migrate). I even try to use Twitter, which I know some people love.

Below is just a quick snapshot of my recent gaming interactions on these three platforms. I'd really like to hear your experiences, which platforms you think are best for discussing and learning about tabletop RPGs right now, and any tips or suggestions you have. Put them in the comments below, or find me on Facebook, MeWe, and Twitter.

Facebook: This was a bit surprising to me, but Facebook has become, for me, the most active of the "OSR" gaming community. Recently I answered a question on Quora: "What are three things you miss most from past editions of Dungeons & Dragons?" I posted it on Facebook on my own page, but also put it on the Tabletop Role-Playing Games group and the Old School Gamers groups. I tried to avoid too much cross-posting, because people seem to hate that, so I think those might be the only two groups where I posted my link. The question exploded in both groups, generating 104 comments in the TTRPG group and 164 comments on the OSG group. I don't recall ever having posted something that generated so much interest before. And, quite refreshingly, the comments were all generally positive. There was almost no edition bashing (a few people did pick on the 3.x era specifically and called it "dreadful," but it was very rare to see such comments. Nobody picked on anybody else for their comments. Quite a few people simply said, "I don't miss anything because I'm still playing the version I like," and I encouraged them to try to share from their experience about parts of the game that are no longer part of the current rules, and why those rules were fun/good/different.

MeWe: This has been another big surprise to me, but for a platform that seems to be trying hard to replicate a lot of the functionality of the old Google Plus, and encouraged folks to save their old posts and upload them into the platform, the gaming community here seems to be much more lethargic than I had expected. There are a ton of posts from people talking about new kickstarters, or providing links to blog posts or (mainly) podcasts, but what I'm not seeing is any interaction from people commenting on the content that's being shared. I shared my link to the "3 things you miss" answer on Quora on MeWe as well in a few different groups, but got very limited interactions: the Dungeons & Dragons group (2 "thumbs up" and one person commenting), the OSR group (1 thumb up), and the TTRPG Blogs Old School Community (1 thumb up). One person also commented on the link directly in my timeline.  For what I thought would be the place where I could experience some of the gaming goodness that I found on the late Google Plus, I've been quite surprised by the lack of interactions on MeWe.

Twitter: Let's just say that I just don't always "get" Twitter. I'm not good at using hashtags to follow things, I don't like my phone constantly buzzing with prompts that someone has posted something, and I feel that if you're not going to be on it 24/7 and replying the second somebody comments, then it's taken as a slight and a conversation never happens, because it didn't happen "in the moment." I honestly don't get how people have the time and energy and focus to just be on Twitter all the time and sharing all this stuff. I know that people do seem to discuss RPGs a lot, and every once in a while I'll see something scroll past my feed that looks like an interesting discussion, but it's usually hours or days after it happens, and when I comment or try to join it, it's too late. I just haven't figured out how to crack the code on using Twitter for learning about and discussing RPG material. When I posted my link about the "3 things you miss," I thought it might generate a bit more discussion, as it would seem to be a topic where everybody would have an opinion they want to share. But, as it is, the tweet generate 1 like and a comment (from the same person, who is a cool guy and long-time reader of my blog).

Based on this short, very unscientific analysis, as well as looking at most of my recent blog posts (which tend not to generate any comments on the blog itself - but that seems to be a trend I've noticed ever since people got used to, and preferred to, leave their comments on Google Plus), and social media sharing, I'm thinking that Facebook seems like it might be a good place to have some good RPG discussions and where folks selling OSR RPG material would generate the most reach for their message. I know a lot of people hate Facebook, and there are a lot of extreme opinions and some bullying on the platform, but I've usually managed to avoid that, and the two groups in which I posted my link (mentioned above) don't really seem to have that problem from what I could tell.

What have your experiences been? What's your preferred platform? 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Jersey Long Hots (a smoked beer with fresh grilled long hot peppers by Eight & Sand Beer Co.)
Listening: "The Surrey with the Fringe On Top" (Live at the Half Note) by Wes Montgomery

Monday, August 5, 2019

2019 One Page Dungeon Contest: Part 2 - Comments on the Winning Entries

In Part 1 of my thoughts about the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest, I talked about a series of tweets I sent out immediately after I finished judging this year's entries. The tweets summarized my "in the moment" thoughts on this year's entries in aggregate and made a few suggestions of things to do or not to do.

In this post, I'll be talking about my thoughts on my specific scoring process, how I scored the winning entries (in broad terms - I'm not going to provide my detailed scores) and also just some overall comments about each one. As there are quite a few winners and honorable mentions, I'll be breaking this up into at least two posts, with this one focusing on the Top 10 entries this year.

I would really love to hear your comments and feedback on my scoring process, as well as whether you agree or disagree with my scoring.  

As I mentioned in the last post, my scoring has evolved quite a bit over the past six contests that I've judged. The One Page Dungeon Contest is pretty unique in that it reflects the diversity and creativity of the hobby, as the organizers do not prescribe how the judges should judge the entries. Each judge is left to his or her own devices as to what constitutes a winning entry. I really like that approach, although to be completely honest, in the first year I judged the contest, I was extremely anxious that no parameters were provided. I was also very self-conscious about whether my picks would align with the other judges or whether I'd be coming out of left field. Over the years, those fears have subsided a bit.

For the first couple of years that I judged, I created an Evernote text document and as I read each adventure, I immediately put it into one of three categories: "DEFINITE," "MAYBE," and "NO." Under each, I then put bullet points about the pros and cons of each adventure. As you might suspect, the "MAYBE" category typically consisted of about 80% of the entries after my first round of scoring. The "NO" entries were ones with atrocious spelling or grammatical mistakes, or ones that looked like someone rushed something in at the last minute, without much thought to the structure of the adventure or how it would be used at the table. I would then go back and re-read every "DEFINITE" and "MAYBE" entry to revise the scoring to tighten it up. Sometimes a "DEFINITE" would be downgraded to a "MAYBE" but usually a few "MAYBE" entries would be elevated to a "DEFINITE." I kept going through this process until I had the required number of "DEFINITE" entries, and then I would send those off to the organizer.

I later began creating a scoring system similar to what I'd chatted with the other judges about when asking them how they judge the entries, or by reading their blogs and tweets on the subject. Now I use a Google Sheets spreadsheet and I have seven columns for the following categories of scores: Premise, Characters, Layout, Map, Spelling/Grammar, Usefulness, and Other. I rate each one of these on a scale of 1-10.

I also weight each category with a percentage, and then create a Weighted Score. I can tell you that "Layout" gets the highest weighting, where as "Other" gets the lowest - I use it to acknowledge little things that are just above and beyond the typical entry but aren't necessarily part of making it a good adventure. For example, really well-done illustrations can help, but technically they aren't necessary. I could put them as part of the Layout score, but that would end up penalizing an entry with no artwork but really good layout. So, it's like a small "bonus" but it won't push the score that much. I might also use it for a very creative and unexpected setting or for really good, evocative writing. It's really for anything that I particularly like about the adventure that doesn't fit into one of the other six categories.

Characters is a bit unique in that I use it as a way to score the inclusion of any NPCs/adversaries in an adventure, but to me this could also include any cleverly designed traps in an adventure without any NPCs. The idea is that just mentioning an NPC without providing any kind of name or personality or goal isn't necessarily all that helpful to a GM trying to run this at the table.

Next to my weighted score for each entry, I also put a column for the "Total Score," a raw number that sometimes I'll look at for tie-breakers and that kind of thing.

I also have a section for "Notes" which I use to remind myself of WHY I may have given a particular score to an adventure. This is where I will also note if I think that the entry is done by a kid (and a note to the organizers for future One Page Dungeon Contests: I think it would be a great idea for entrants to "check a box" or something when they enter to note if they are in a certain age bracket, so that perhaps the child entries could be judged separately from the adult ones). I also make notes to myself in this section if I think an entry was created by a foreign-language writer, which could explain a low score in Spelling/Grammar.

Once all of this is done, I go back through the adventures a second-time and make sure that I'm happy with the scores I've assigned, and then I sort them and rank from by Weighted Score from highest to lowest. At this point, I then go back through the top entries one final time to make sure that the scores align with my overall thoughts, and I also scroll through the entries that didn't quite make it to see if there's any reason I should or shouldn't adjust those scores a final time.

One last thing to note: I've found that the scoring has gotten more and more difficult every year that I've been doing this, and it's primarily because the quality of the entries has increased so much that there is almost no time any more when I look at an entry and immediately think, "Well, this one isn't going to get a good score!" That used to happen somewhat frequently at the beginning and it was almost all primarily due to either really bad spelling and grammar mistakes, or due to using a font that was so difficult to read or too small to read (being shrunk to fit on one page). All of those things seldom happen any more, so when you see my comments below, while they may seem nit-picky, that's part of the point - I'm starting to really have to focus on some nitty-gritty details in order to differentiate the scores. So, please don't take my comments below as criticisms. They're meant to be constructive, but clearly all of the entries I'll be talking about were great in one way or another because they achieved a top score.

With that out of the way, here are my thoughts on this year's entries.

Firstly, the highest potential "Raw Score" that any entry can receive is 70 (7 categories; 10 points possible in each). My highest scoring entry for 2019 had a "Raw Score" of 57. My lowest (overall, not just in the Top 10) had an 11.

From a Weighted Score standpoint, the highest potential total score could be a 10. The scores for my Top 10 entries ranged from 7.25 (#10) to 8.25 (#1), with many entries tied in-between. You can see that only one point separated my #1 entry from the #10. That's how close the top entries were.

  • Ed Nicholson: "Plumbing the Depths." 
    • This was one of my "Top 10" entries, although it was not at the top for me.
    • I liked a lot about this entry, particularly the very succinct but creative set-up, which by its very nature also included a time element to prevent groups from taking too long while exploring, and some really fun and creative traps. 
    • There were no spelling or grammatical errors that I caught, and the layout and map were all well above average. 
    • I also liked that it provided some level guidance ("for low level adventurers")
    • Where I would have liked to see a bit more detail are just a few notes on both the Mushroom Men ("fights as a 2 HD monster" or the equivalent is sufficient) and a bit more on Gon the Wizard (it mentions that he can "easily defeat" the party unless they use the ring on him; I'd like to see one or two lines to explain a rough level/tactics/etc.). 
      • It gets difficult because I personally am not looking for full stats, especially because a lot of these adventurers could be used with systems other than a standard class-and-level game like D&D or its derivatives. So, it's a fine line - I don't want full stats, but a one-line guideline is usually enough to provide some extra usefulness at the table. 
      • The goal for me is helping the GM run this quickly at the table without having to do a ton of prep. 
  • JD Thornton: "The Buried Pyramid of the Undergod."
    • This is another entry that made my "Top 10" in terms of weighted score, but was not at the top of my rankings. 
    • Again, I caught no spelling or grammatical mistakes, and I really liked the premise
    • I think the layout is pretty decent, but I put in my notes that it's way too dense with text, and still feel that way after looking at it again
    •  I loved the map and thought the use of different color fonts was a great way to quickly differentiate NPCs/Monsters from Treasure/Items, etc. However, while I liked the approach, and it could be mainly because I'm looking at it on a monitor screen instead of printed out, but the red and black didn't always stand out from each other as much as they could have. The green worked well, though. 
    • As with the above entry, I would have liked to see just a quick line of "dog-men are equivalent to..." so that a young or inexperienced GM might know whether to stat them as kobolds or gnolls or whatever. Providing some level guidelines would have helped with this, too. 
  • Skerples: "The Roving Wheel." 
    • This entry just barely did not make my Top 10, but it was still a high-scoring entry. The judges were asked to send over our Top 20 scoring entries, and this one was definitely in that group. 
    • I absolutely loved the creative premise of this entry, and the layout was good and made use of the page to fit the theme. It did make it a bit harder to read on my monitor, as I couldn't pick it up and turn it around to read like I could if I had printed it out, but I didn't count that against the entry since that was my choice not to print it out. 
    • This is a very good example of an entry that got a perfect "10" score in the "Other" category for its creativity in both concept and writing style. 
    • I also loved the evocative descriptions for the monsters. 
    • Where I thought this could have been slightly improved was a bit more detail on the monster stats (again - not looking for specific stats but just guidelines on how to use them), and that would have helped this entry also be more immediately useful at the table with limited prep. 
  • Karl Stjernberg: "Salt & Stink." 
    • Another entry that was in my Top 10. 
    • I loved the quick set-up and description to let you know what you're getting into right off the bat, and also it mentions specifically for 1st level characters, so you know immediately if this will be of use your group. 
    • All of the descriptions are well-written and make great use of just a few short words to evoke an image - it's one of the hallmarks of a One Page Dungeon entry, in my mind, to say more with less. 
    • For the most part, many creatures in here are pretty standard fare so no stats are necessary, but a few notes for things like "undead duck pirates" and "lamprey-folk" would have helped. 
    • I loved that the huge oyster was plotting a mutiny and that "spitting out valuable pearls is hard work..." 
    • The undead whale setting was creative and different from the standard abandoned temple/tower/dungeon. 
  • Clarabelle Chong: "A Pinch of Salt."
    • This was ranked #5 overall, but I ranked it as #1 in my scoring. 
    • I loved so much about this adventure, including the creativity of the presentation (the old style newspaper format was so different than any other entry), the premise/set-up, the use of "advertisements" in the newspaper to provide adventuring clues and prompts... all of this was very well-done. 
    • The hand-drawn map was well-done and fit the aesthetic of the art used in the newspaper
    • There are so many ideas in here that beg for hours or even multiple sessions of on-going gaming, which I really liked. 
    • Where I feel this could improve a bit are some level guidelines and a bit more detail on the adversaries/NPCs. Also, while I did really like the layout, the section with the map at the bottom was a bit small. While I was able to blow it up to read on my monitor, if it were printed out I imagine it would be a bit more difficult to read given its size. Those are the only things that knocked the score down a little for me.
  • Euan R and Garry C: "Zorpy's Tall Tale (for Kids!)"
    • Looks like I wasn't alone in grading this as one of my top entries (like "The Roving Wheel," it just barely missed my Top 10), and I graded it as I would any adventure without giving special dispensation that it was from a child creator.  
    • I loved the premise and thought the random tables were very unique.
    • Everything included from a monster standpoint was pretty standard, so there was no need to have to include any stat guidelines. 
    • I loved the creativity of including the stuffed animal toy as an NPC. 
    • Using a story-telling technique to move the characters into different settings where they have different types of encounters, and then putting a time-limit on it, was a really clever idea. 
    • As a judge who has to read hundreds of these entries, I also have to point out that it was not to have an entry that wasn't crammed with very small text! :)
  • William Ross: "The Forgotten Temple."
    • This is a very easy-to-use adventure with plenty of info for a GM to run at the table with little prep
    • It's very clear and I really liked that the type was very easy-to-read
    • A bit of notes on level guidelines would help, especially for newer GMs
    • My only real negative comment is that it's all pretty standard. Again, remember that I'm having to go out of my way to nitpick things with judging since the entries are all really good, but in terms of presentation and the concept, it's rather plain. While the layout is clean and easy to read, it doesn't necessarily stand out from some of the other more creative layouts in the contest. 
  • Anton L.C.: "Tomb of the Broken King."
    • Here's an example of why I go back and re-read the entries a second and often a third time. I think the first time I read this was toward the end of the night after having read a lot of different entries that day, and my eyes were glazing over a bit. I originally scored this lower because my eyes were tired and nothing in the layout and black-and-white format really jumped out at me. 
    • The presentation here is good, with a clean layout. 
    • While I applaud the use of art, I'm not sure that it adds all that much to the adventure. Given the limited space, I think that perhaps the picture of the Stone Golem could have been eliminated, as well as the Burial Space (which was very fuzzy/hard to read on my monitor) and then that space could have been used to provide a bit more detail on running the Broken King and Broken Queen in combat (some basic stats, etc.). 
    • I liked the rumors table, and also thought the Sword of Sins was clever and unique. 
  • David Northcutt: "The Broken Sepulcher."
    • I really liked the clean layout on this, which also provided room for some nice touches like the green circles to mark different areas and call them out to match the descriptions. It sounds simple, but it helps immediately figure out how everything goes together, and adds a splash of color to help things stand out. It's also not crowded and easy on the eyes.
    • I really liked the actual drawings and presentation of the maps. They look really nice. 
    • Overall this is a good, pretty easy-to-use adventure. 
    • Again, if I had one nitpick, it's that it's just a bit standard in terms of the actual set-up and premise. Standard fantasy is absolutely fine and I don't necessarily penalize any entries that utilize that format, but when I'm judging, you're a little more likely to stand out if you have a non-standard premise that looks like it would be a fun one-night adventure. 
    • I tend to think that most campaigns are of the "standard fantasy" variety, so if you have a chance to run a one-off adventure, sometimes it's nice to have something out of the ordinary. 
  • Max White: "Feudal Attraction."
    • This was one of my top-scoring entries. 
    • This is a perfect example of what I was taking about in my previous post about "using the one-page format as a feature, not a bug." Max used the page border to list a bunch of potential NPC names to use in the adventure, but in such a way that it's not crowded. I loved that. 
    • I really loved that, even with the limitation of a one-page format, the entry included a fun random table of NPC attitudes/personality and also included a very creative idea of tension rolls. These are all things that are immediately use and also could be used in other adventures as well. 
    • For me, the main thing that was missing were some rough level guidelines. 
    • I also wasn't thrilled with the choice of font, and while I understand why the NPC names in the border were made a lighter color so as not to take attention away from the main adventure, they were very hard to read. I would have preferred a different main font that was darker to begin with, allowing the names in the border to be made a bit darker without competing.

I'll continue with a look at the remaining winning entries and the honorable mentions in a future post. Remember to leave your comments and thoughts on my scoring, as well as what you thought about the above adventures. I'd also like to hear from anybody who has used these adventures at the table and what their experience was. 

Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Pellegrino Sparkling Water with Angostura Bitters 
Listening: "Manteca" by Quincy Jones

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest: Part 1

In this post, I'll be discussing my judging process for the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest, commenting on the winners, and also offering some advice for next year's participants. If you haven't checked out the One Page Dungeon Contest entries, head over to the official website and give them a look. There are hundreds and hundreds of great ideas over the past 10 years, with so many maps, characters, scenario ideas, and more. 

This is a bit long, but my intent is to help would-be designers and creators to know what I look for when judging the contest. While I can't guarantee how long I'll be honored with the request to judge the contest, based on the interactions I have had via email, twitter, and Google Hangouts with the other judges in the past, I don't think my criteria are all that different. 

Late last week, the results of the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest were revealed by the contest organizer, Aaron from Shattered Pike Studios. Judging this year's contest was, as in previous years, quite an adventure for me. Despite Aaron giving the judges access to the entries as they came in, I was busy at work and not able to check them until after the deadline. At the time I wasn't too worried, as the number of entries his year seemed like it was going to be much lighter than in years past. Of course, at the last minute, dozens of entries were submitted, resulting in over 115 one-page dungeons that I needed to read and score, and then repeat that process two more times to make sure that I didn't change my mind and gave every score a fair chance. Many late nights were had with me drinking cold brew coffee Old Fashioned drinks and nodding off at my laptop while trying to ensure that I gave every entry a fair chance. 

As I was reviewing the various entries, I began tweeting a bit. 

Completely not related to judging, but followers of my blog know that usually when I post, I mention where I am when I'm writing my post, what music I'm listening to, and what I'm drinking while posting. That continued with my tweets about judging the 2019 contest. 

To be honest, I'm not a huge twitter fan. I find with my work and family schedule, I don't check it very often, and if you're going to use it and have conversations with people on twitter, I feel that you have to just be checking constantly. If somebody mentions me in a comment or says something and it takes me a few hours to write back, I think that breaks the "twitter code" of being instantaneous. I find it exhausting and a bit overwhelming, which explains my lack of "likes" and "retweets" on my tweets - I don't interact much with people, so there's little incentive for them to interact back. I've always preferred longer-form posts like blogs or even posts on Facebook and Google Plus (R.I.P.). 

In any event, I did tweet a bit about how my judging was going, and shared a photo of my desktop at the end of judging, which did generate a funny comment from a reader regarding how many tabs I had open on my browser. 

My main reason for tweeting, aside from keeping people informed that judging was coming along, was to do a quick "in the moment" look at my initial thoughts on the entries this year as I finished judging, so people could look ahead at things to do next time. I knew I'd be blogging about my thoughts later, but that wouldn't come until after the judging for everyone had been completed and the results tallied, which I knew would take at least a few weeks. 

Here are my initial thoughts. Reading back through them, it strikes me partly as funny and partly as annoying that in a series of tweets wherein I tell people to make sure they double-check their spelling and grammar, I made simple mistakes like saying "... it will effect your score..." instead of "...affect your score..." I know the difference, so I'm going to blame being tired and up late with 
less than 5 hours of sleep per night that week. 

So here are the "8 Things" I tweeted out mentioning my thoughts on things entrants should or shouldn't do when making their dungeons for the contest. I'll expand on these a bit below and add a few more comments, and in a separate post, get into specifics on the winners and my picks - while most of my "Top 20" made it into the official rankings, a few of my top-scoring entries received an "honorable mention" meaning that they did not get enough points combined from the three judges to elevate their score into the Top 20. 

With regard to Tweet #2 about not relying too much on overly-cliche words, it turns out that "lost" was only used twice across 115 entries. However, "forgotten" was used three times and "temple" was also used three times (once combined with "forgotten"). There's nothing particularly wrong with calling your entry "The Forgotten Temple" (the title of an entry in 2019), but, as a judge, when I see a title like "Captain Huxley Palloolieth and the Great Underwater Elevator
or "Death-Rave of the Techno-Lich" (both names of entries in 2019), I'm a bit more intrigued because I know I'm going to see something new and different. The title doesn't make the entry any better (as it turns out, based on the scoring from all three judges, "The Forgotten Temple" was ranked #7 overall, whereas the other two I mentioned were "Honorable Mentions." However, I do have to say, from a "marketing" standpoint (making someone want to read your adventure), if I were just an average person wanting to read a fun adventure, a title like "Death Rave of the Techno-Lich" is going to grab my attention and imagination much quicker than a generically titled adventure.

This does tie into my #3 tweet, about the concept of your adventure. As I looked through my Top 20, especially my Top 10, very few fell into the standard trope of anything abandoned or lost or forgotten. A few of them did, and I'm not saying that you can't do that, but if you do it, I would strongly suggest that you have something else going for you to make your adventure unique and different. There are hundreds if not thousands of adventures available for free online and even professionally published adventures from TSR, Wizards of the Coast, and other publishers that follow this formula. It works, but for me when looking for a quick one-page dungeon, I'm looking for something new and different that I would not have thought of. An example for this would be "The Forgotten Abbey" which made it into my top-ranked submissions. The set-up sounds a little standard... "The crumbling ruins of an ancient temple lurk in the distance..." Pretty standard stuff there, and nothing to really pique my interest. However, one of the things I loved about this entry was how the author created a whole system for generating a random dungeon using a standard deck of cards, and the creativity that went into this sub-system for generating it on the fly during a session. It was elegant, creative, and like nothing I'd seen before. That took the standard "a ruined temple..." theme and made it so much more fun for me.

Tweets #4 and #5 are something that I have mentioned every year since I started judging the contest. I really feel that it's not that difficult to get someone to read over your entry and use spell-check and grammar-check. The ones that really get to me are words that definitely would have been caught by spellcheck (I see things like "sorceror" all the time, and this year I saw things like "beings" spelled as "beigns" and "which" spelled as "wich." All of those misspelled words immediately show up any program I use (a Word Processor, Blogspot, Excel, PowerPoint...) with a red underline to indicate "this might be a misspelled word." Granted, the computer software I use doesn't always catch everything, and often it tries to correct something that doesn't need to be corrected, but it's at least a good start. I will overlook a couple of misspelled words or improper grammar, but after the third time, it does become a bit tedious to read. Back in the day when I was working at corporate jobs and was a manager, if I received a resume with a misspelled word, I threw it in the trash. That might sound harsh, but if you can't be bothered to spell words correctly when you're applying for a job, then you're indicating that you are not one to be careful with your work.

I'm much more lenient with my One Page Dungeon Contest scoring; as mentioned, I do allow a few errors before I begin to knock the score down, and also "Grammar and Spelling" is but one of seven different things I score (and it counts for only 10% of the final score). I rank each category on a score of 1-10 (10 being best) and then created a weighted score. To give an example of how Grammar & Spelling might affect a final score, while most of my Top 20 scoring entries had a "10" in Grammar & Spelling, one of my Top 10 only had a 5, and a couple had a 7 or 8. So, it's not an absolute killer, but it matters.

One other point to mention with regard to Grammar & Spelling is that I do make special exceptions for what appear to be kid-created entries and for entries that are clearly from non-native English speakers. Those are usually pretty easy to pick out, and I have a special note in my scoring to remind me of this so that it has a slightly less detrimental effect on the overall score.

I will say that the best thing to do, however, is to have someone review your entry who is a native English speaker and whom you trust with their grasp of English grammar and spelling. Getting two different people to review your entry would be even better. That means that you need to build in enough time for your "editors" to review your entry before you submit it.

Lastly, I don't want anyone to think I'm picking on any particular entry or person, as that's not the case. I am pretty strict about pointing out mistakes like this, but if it makes anyone feel better, I do this even when I'm reviewing comics "professionally" (e.g., I review comics as a journalist for another website in addition to just reading them because I enjoy them). I just pointed out on twitter that one of DC Comics' editors should have caught a very simple transposition of "then" when it should have been "than" in a recent issue of Action Comics. While you might say, "See? Even professionals make mistakes!" I am more inclined to say, "That's an editor who should be sent back for training or given less responsibility."

Let's dive into my Tweet #6, which is mainly about layout. I mentioned in my tweet that I give a high weight to the layout of an entry. What I should have said was, "I give the highest weight to layout." Out of the seven things that I score when reviewing the entries, 25% of the total weight goes to layout. That may sound like a lot, but to me, the entire point of the One Page Dungeon Contest can be boiled down into: "Can you design creative and useful adventure that fits onto a single page?" Note the words in bold in my description: design, creative, useful. Those are all extremely important, but the main thing I'm focusing on is, "Do you use the one-page restriction as a feature rather than a bug?"

The best way to approach this, in my mind, is to start with the one-page format in mind before you come up with your premise.

I'll give you another real world example to illustrate what I mean. Recently for my work (I own a boutique advertising agency) I had to make a presentation to my client about the current state of television advertising (specifically relating to the aspects of reach, ratings, cost efficiency, etc.). One of the topics I addressed was the shortened attention span of viewers and the recent increase of shorter-form ads. The standard "currency" of television ads is still 30-seconds, but 60-second ads are still somewhat common, but 15-second ads are much more common today than they were even 10 years ago. Now, a new ad format is becoming more popular: 6-second ads.

Typically, when my clients decide to make television/video ads, their creative agency starts out with a concept, and they test the concept to see if it is going to influence the right people, and then they create a storyboard for a 30-second commercial. Once that gets approved and goes into production, they start trying to figure out how they can cut out certain portions to turn it into a 15-second spot. If you watch TV with commercial enough, you'll definitely be able to notice when this has happened. Usually the advertiser will spend a few weeks running a 30-second spot, and then when they think enough people have seen it, they switch to running 15-second spots (because the ad time is cheaper).

However, my point of this presentation I was giving was that, with a 6-second ad, you can't approach it the same way. There is no way you're going to be able to cut-down a 30-second TV spot into a 6-second spot and retain any of the key concepts or messages that you were trying to get across. The best way to approach it, then is to start with the idea that you only have six seconds, and build a new ad from scratch to take advantage of the shorter time that it's going to run. In essence, you don't look at the 6-second format as a restriction on your 30-second message. You look at it as an opportunity to quickly reach someone with a short attention span and grab their attention before they've had a chance to tune-out.

As I was presenting this concept to my clients, completely off the cuff and not planned ahead of time, I realized that this was the same idea of the One Page Dungeon Contest, which I had just recently finished judging. I mentioned to them that I play role-playing games and have been a judge for this contest over the past few years. My clients are fully aware that I am a geek - I have Superman and Batman short-sleeve button-up collared shirts that I wear to their office frequently, and I once used the "Emotional Spectrum" of the Green Lantern Corps from DC Comics as the theme for an entire presentation to them, so none of this came as a surprise, but they related to the concept I was trying to get across when I put it into these terms.

For myself, I have to say I was a little proud that not only did I figure out a way to incorporate my love of tabletop role-playing games into a presentation, but it was extremely relevant and directly related to the point I was trying to make, advertising-wise. 

To help understand why this is important, just have a look at some of the entries. The ones that were originally longer and simply shrunk down to fit jump out immediately. They are difficult to read, hard on the eyes, and almost never very clever in the overall presentation. Imagine that you're a judge, reading these night after night to score them, and you come across a very densely typed, "wall of text" presentation. You can probably guess what my initial response is.

I'm going to skip tweet #7 for now and go to #8, premise. This is a new category that I began scoring a few years ago, but it's an important one. The premise is the hook that draws you into the adventure immediately and helps the reader understand "What is this about?", "How do I get my players involved?", and "What are the players trying to accomplish?" A well-developed premise grabs my attention immediately and helps me understand what I'm looking at as I read the adventure and think about the overall scores. It doesn't have to be specifically written out the way I described it - sometimes the premise can come across via clever layout and design, or from just a few words.

An example of a good premise, to me, comes from the entry "Bad Frog Bargain" (one of my top-scoring entries and which was ultimately ranked in the Top 30 entries this year). It opens like this:

Sigwin, a minor Elfland lord, promised to make the frogling Tobbit mayor of Burdelen in exchange for his first born child. Since becoming mayor and having a son, Tobbit has banned any elves or other fae creatures from entering Burdelen. Sigwin is determined to collect his payment and raise a frog child as his own in Elfland. He has cursed the town’s water source, the Ancient Well, causing a 1 in 6 chance of mutating anyone who drinks from it. He has also summoned a magic dark cloud over the town that rains dangerous things once per day. He has sent a letter to Tobbit stating that the curses will stop if he drops the child into the well after walking around it widdershins, or counter clockwise.With a short paragraph, the author makes it immediately clear what the atmosphere of this adventure is like, what is happening before the characters begin adventuring, and what they should be trying to accomplish. That short paragraph, along with the clever, somewhat "vintage" style drawings of Sigwin the elf lord and Tobbin the frogling, immediately drew me in. It's clever and creative without being overly complicated. Sometimes author try to get too clever and their premise gets muddied from too much explanation.

Also in tweet #8, I refer to usefulness. This is yet another somewhat new category that I began officially scoring a few years ago. In the past, I just built this into my notes and it would be something that could help move an entry up or down in my final scoring. These days, however, I've found that one of the things that was partly missing from a lot of one page dungeon entries was how useful it was to run at the table. Many of them were simply well-organized ideas with good layout and sometimes some great art or a good map, but little else in terms of how to run the adventure at the table. If the adventure requires hours of work on the part of the DM before playing, then I think that misses a part of the spirit of the One Page Dungeon Contest. I do appreciate creative ideas, but as Steve Winter mentioned a few years ago when I interviewed him and the other judges about their experiences with judging the contest, "Ideas are cheap; everyone has plenty of ideas. Polishing those ideas into shiny gems takes talent and work. That's what DMs are looking for." That always stuck with me and became one of my guiding principles when judging entries every year after.

That's all for this particular post. In my next post about the 2019 One Page Dungeon Contest, I'll talk about a few other criteria I review when judging the adventures, providing my specific about my thoughts on the top scoring entries this year, and pointing out a few others that I scored highly but didn't quite make the cut, and what I liked about each of them.

As always I welcome your feedback, particularly if you entered this year and have questions about my scoring or want any tips or suggestions for future entries.

Hanging: I started this post at Congregation Ale House in Pasadena while my daughter was at her ballet lesson (it's conveniently located!) and then finished it up at my home office.
Listening: At the Ale House, I distinctly remember some Led Zeppelin playing while I was writing ("Immigrant Song" as I recall). Currently I'm listening to "Ghetto Walkin'" by Bilal from the album, "Everything's Beautiful."
 Drinking: At the Ale House, I was enjoying a Blind Pig IPA by Russian River Brewing Company. Currently at my home office I'm having tap water.
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