By M. Sean Molley
Answer: TOSSES

This puzzle is presented as a series of game recaps of a full season of games played by the Greyhawk University dungeonball team. The extraction consists of a two-part instruction and a final clue phrase. The two parts of the instruction can be derived in either order since they rely on separate channels of information within the puzzle. (The sorting of all derived data in this puzzle is in the given puzzle order, i.e., from WEEK 1 to WEEK 18 as presented.)

First, notice that the scores of each game are suspiciously close (never more than 26 points apart, hmm). Subtracting the scores and converting to alpha (A=1) yields SHIFT MODULE LETTERS. The higher score is always given first so hopefully that makes the subtraction more obvious.

Solvers should also notice that each of the game recaps contains references to a classic Dungeons & Dragons published adventure. (This does assume that someone on the team is familiar with classic D&D, but there should be enough place names and keywords included that once you have the idea, the Internet can get you to the right places.) The word MODULE from subtracting the scores also fits this notion since D&D adventures were called “modules” back then.

When you look up the modules, the key piece of information is that each module has an adventure code (e.g., S1 for “Tomb of Horrors”). The adventure codes are (and were) an important part of how old D&D adventures were grouped into series, and the codes are featured on the covers of each booklet, so the adventure code is a prominent feature (in other words, I do not believe solvers who are familiar with D&D would consider the adventure codes obscure in relation to the adventure titles.)

You only have half an instruction at this point (SHIFT MODULE LETTERS . . . by what?). Someone might try to break the puzzle at this point, and indeed several groups did so during test-solving. The use of the module codes and each game’s win/loss aspect of the puzzle haven’t been clued yet, but it’s not that much of a stretch to think of the idea, and teams who do so may be rewarded with an early break. C’est la vie.

Assuming the team does not break the puzzle after just subtracting the scores and identifying the adventures, another part of each game recap that seems obviously meaningful is that in each recap something happens in the Nth “round” (“round” being the unit of time in D&D combat, so it stands to reason that dungeonball would be played in rounds). That something is always described as involving rather estoeric materials. Anybody familiar with D&D is likely to know that casting magic spells often requires material components, and the first letters of each recap (which are visually emphasized) also spell out FIRST EDITION SPELLS as an extra clue.

Look up the listed spell components (using the 1st Edition D&D rules—several of the spells used do not exist, or have different material components, in later editions of the game) and it should be clear that in each game recap the material components for one and only one spell are listed. One hopes that the obvious thing to do is to index into the spell names using the given round numbers. Doing this yields the second half of the instruction, BY NUMS LOSSES GO BACK.

Hopefully SHIFT MODULE LETTERS BY NUMS LOSSES GO BACK (or BY NUMS LOSSES GO BACK SHIFT MODULE LETTERS if you derive the phrases in the opposite order) is a sufficiently clear direction that the final step is to shift each module’s letter by its code number, positive if the team won and negative if the team lost. Going back to Tomb of Horrors, “S1” can therefore be either R (S-1) if the team lost, or T (S+1) if the team won. This results in the clue phrase NOBODY BLANKS A DWARF, which is a reference to a scene from the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, specifically this one.

The “blanked” word of the quote is TOSSES and that is the answer to this puzzle.

The final grid of information is as follows:

Week Adventure Title First Letter of Text Game Score Difference Letter 1st Edition Spell Index/ Round Extraction Operator Module Letter Module Number Final Output Material Components
1Into the MaelstromFWin, 50–3119SLIGHTNING BOLT10BADDM1N“a bit of fur and an amber, crystal, or glass rod”
2Against the Cult of the Reptile GodIWin, 105–978HINVISIBILITY12YADDN1O“an eyelash and a bit of gum arabic, the former encased in the latter”
3The Hidden Shrine of TamoachanRLose, 19–109ISTINKING CLOUD4NSUBC1B“a rotten egg or several skunk cabbage leaves”
4RavenloftSWin, 72–666FCHARIOT OF SUSTARRE11UADDI6O“a small piece of wood, 2 holly berries, and a fire source at least equal to a torch”
5The Keep on the BorderlandsTWin, 36–1620TANIMATE DEAD4MADDB2D“a drop of blood, a piece of human flesh, an a pinch of bone powder or a bone shard”
6Palace of the Silver PrincessELose, 18–513MUNSEEN SERVANT3SSUBB3Y“a piece of string and a bit of wood”
7Slave Pits of the UndercityDWin, 54–3915OHALLUCINATORY TERRAIN4LADDA1B“a stone, a twig, and a bit of green plant—leaf or grass blade”
8The Throne of BloodstoneIWin, 22–184DGUST OF WIND5OADDH4L“a legume seed”
9In Search of the UnknownTLose, 77–5621USLEEP1SSUBB1A“a pinch of fine sand, rose petals, or a live cricket”
10The Assassin’s KnotIWin, 34–2212LDEATH SPELL6SADDL2N“a crushed black pearl with a minimum value of 1000 g.p.”
11Tomb of the Lizard KingOWin, 83–785EWIZARD EYE7EADDI2K“a bit of bat fur”
12Danger at DunwaterNLose, 12–012LDISINTEGRATE3SSUBU2S“a lodestone and a pinch of dust”
13The Ghost Tower of InvernessSLose, 20–155ESHILLELAGH9GSUBC2A“an oaken club, any mistletoe, and a shamrock leaf”
14Hall of the Fire Giant KingPLose, 44–2420TTEMPORAL STASIS5OSUBG3D“a powder composed of diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire dust”
15The Isle of DreadELose, 109–8920TFIREBALL5BSUBX1W“a tiny ball composed of bat guano and sulphur”
16Vault of the DrowLLose, 67–625EHYPNOTIC PATTERN10ASUBD3A“a glowing stick of incense or a crystal rod filled with phosphorescent material”
17Tomb of HorrorsLLose, 30–1218RBIBGY’S CRUSHING HAND7CSUBS1R“a glove of snake skin and the shell of an egg”
18The Lost CitySWin, 129–11019SMORDENKAINEN’S FAITHFUL HOUND7KADDB4F“a tiny silver whistle, a piece of bone, and a thread”