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|
|1||Into the Maelstrom||F||Win, 50–31||19||S||LIGHTNING BOLT||10||B||ADD||M||1||N||“a bit of fur and an amber, crystal, or glass rod”|
|2||Against the Cult of the Reptile God||I||Win, 105–97||8||H||INVISIBILITY||12||Y||ADD||N||1||O||“an eyelash and a bit of gum arabic, the former encased in the latter”|
|3||The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan||R||Lose, 19–10||9||I||STINKING CLOUD||4||N||SUB||C||1||B||“a rotten egg or several skunk cabbage leaves”|
|4||Ravenloft||S||Win, 72–66||6||F||CHARIOT OF SUSTARRE||11||U||ADD||I||6||O||“a small piece of wood, 2 holly berries, and a fire source at least equal to a torch”|
|5||The Keep on the Borderlands||T||Win, 36–16||20||T||ANIMATE DEAD||4||M||ADD||B||2||D||“a drop of blood, a piece of human flesh, an a pinch of bone powder or a bone shard”|
|6||Palace of the Silver Princess||E||Lose, 18–5||13||M||UNSEEN SERVANT||3||S||SUB||B||3||Y||“a piece of string and a bit of wood”|
|7||Slave Pits of the Undercity||D||Win, 54–39||15||O||HALLUCINATORY TERRAIN||4||L||ADD||A||1||B||“a stone, a twig, and a bit of green plant—leaf or grass blade”|
|8||The Throne of Bloodstone||I||Win, 22–18||4||D||GUST OF WIND||5||O||ADD||H||4||L||“a legume seed”|
|9||In Search of the Unknown||T||Lose, 77–56||21||U||SLEEP||1||S||SUB||B||1||A||“a pinch of fine sand, rose petals, or a live cricket”|
|10||The Assassin’s Knot||I||Win, 34–22||12||L||DEATH SPELL||6||S||ADD||L||2||N||“a crushed black pearl with a minimum value of 1000 g.p.”|
|11||Tomb of the Lizard King||O||Win, 83–78||5||E||WIZARD EYE||7||E||ADD||I||2||K||“a bit of bat fur”|
|12||Danger at Dunwater||N||Lose, 12–0||12||L||DISINTEGRATE||3||S||SUB||U||2||S||“a lodestone and a pinch of dust”|
|13||The Ghost Tower of Inverness||S||Lose, 20–15||5||E||SHILLELAGH||9||G||SUB||C||2||A||“an oaken club, any mistletoe, and a shamrock leaf”|
|14||Hall of the Fire Giant King||P||Lose, 44–24||20||T||TEMPORAL STASIS||5||O||SUB||G||3||D||“a powder composed of diamond, emerald, ruby, and sapphire dust”|
|15||The Isle of Dread||E||Lose, 109–89||20||T||FIREBALL||5||B||SUB||X||1||W||“a tiny ball composed of bat guano and sulphur”|
|16||Vault of the Drow||L||Lose, 67–62||5||E||HYPNOTIC PATTERN||10||A||SUB||D||3||A||“a glowing stick of incense or a crystal rod filled with phosphorescent material”|
|17||Tomb of Horrors||L||Lose, 30–12||18||R||BIBGY’S CRUSHING HAND||7||C||SUB||S||1||R||“a glove of snake skin and the shell of an egg”|
|18||The Lost City||S||Win, 129–110||19||S||MORDENKAINEN’S FAITHFUL HOUND||7||K||ADD||B||4||F||“a tiny silver whistle, a piece of bone, and a thread”|