The following may be information gathering for a more cohesive thought. Or not. Who knows. Some concepts below might be positive. Some might be negative. Food for thought.
Meat and Potatoes
Tomb of the Iron God "is a fairly standard dungeon delve. ... It doesn't contain much wildly creative material, but it does have lots of atmosphere and solid dungeon exploration. It's a meat and potatoes type of adventure."
-- Matt Finch (source)
Tomb of the Iron God "doesn't contain new monsters or a wildly unusual setting for the adventure. It is a meat and potatoes dungeon, ... and it's not exactly what people will expect from me after Pod Caverns." "I think it is a very good meat and potatoes dungeon, with good atmosphere (I don't think I equaled B1 for dungeon quality, but I think I matched it in atmosphere) and some good rooms. ... I don't want anyone to buy it expecting Pod-Caverns."
-- Matt Finch (source)
Tangent: While this is an interesting definition of a "Meat and Potatoes module," the term isn't actually appropriate for the example module. Matt sells Tomb of the Iron God somewhat short. While it's not as imaginative or inspired as Pod-Caverns of the Sinister Shroom, and while it explicitly demands that the DM fill in several important blanks, Tomb of the Iron God is much more imaginative than Matt gives it credit for. It contains several custom creatures, and includes a number of areas that stimulate intense player engagement, and inspire profound action. Tomb of the Iron God exceeds the sum of its parts.
Enable the Awesome
Preface: When you read the following, fight hard to avoid hearing only the superficial implication. There is a deeper meaning in the quotes...
Things that enable the awesome: "In a module, anything that gives certain tools for the players to allow them to overcome obstacles in an unexpected, creative way, or to overcome stuff when they really had no right to expect to do so based on the relative level of the combatants, stuff like that."
-- Joethelawyer (source)
And more from the same post: "[some stuff in the module] turned what would have been a suicidal frontal assault into a slaughter [in our favor]. It evened the odds. The module provided us with the tools to be awesome, the rooms had stuff that allowed us to pull a McGyver with some creative thought."
The point is not that the module provided physical tools to overcome obstacles. The important point is that the module contained obstacles that are, on the surface, impossible to deal with, without using creative thought. In other words, Joethelawyer wants very hard challenges!
Additional info from the same thread makes it clear that Joethelawyer was looking for reasons to engage the environment, and fiddle with stuff; positive, short-term reinforcement. Others too; see below. This doesn't necessarily have anything to do with "being awesome," but it may support the notion of an inspiring module.
"What seems to be missing ... is interactivity. 'Deep background' isn't the same thing as having interesting shit to fuck around with."
-- Black Vulmea (source)
"Look at some adventures by Gabor Lux for examples of dungeon interactivity done right. "Temple of the Sea Demon" and anything from his Isles on an Emerald Sea series spring to mind. Players can miss rooms, find them, ignore things or play with them but there damn sure is a lot of intriguing dressing, tricks to play with & history that can be discovered in fun, dangerous or beneficial ways."
-- zarathustra (source)
Black Vulmea and zarathustra want to be inspired into action.
"The module is disappointingly one-dimensional. There's no twist or mystery. There's no memorable setting, theme, atmosphere or mood. There are no meaningful decisions for the players to make outside the basic scope of finding loot and battling or avoiding the monsters, and the monsters are indeed doing exactly what the players' initial information purports them to be doing. There's almost nothing fantastical, mystical or whimsical about the module, other than the simple presence of some of the monsters and their treasures."
-- me (source)
Which isn't to say that's necessarily bad, because "groups that prefer straightforward dungeon romps will probably find this much more enjoyable than the C+ grade would suggest." Though I personally wouldn't run it without adding considerably more enablers for richer play.
Before writing the above review, I started a discussion on K&KA in order to help figure out the right language to use in the review.
The author of the reviewed module posted a definition of "old school fantasy gaming" that helps understand his authorial style – i.e., why his module is the way it is:
"Old school fantasy gaming? It's about kicking in the door, killing the monsters, disarming the trap on the treasure chest, roughly dividing the loot so it can all get carried out and moving on. It's about bright steel in blackened corridors, rescuing the princess and slaying the dragon. The highest concept one need concern oneself with is staying righteous or alternately making sure the rest of the party doesn't find out how bent you are. Above all, it's about staying close to wargame roots without just playing another wargame.
- The Dungeon Delver (source)
Note the Matt Finch (Mythmere) quote immediately following The Dungeon Delver's post:
"Most of the play is done in areas "outside" of dice resolution and is based on player intelligence and skill. Once you get into dice-rolling, the dice are followed closely; player skill is measured by the degree to which skill in the "non-dice" part of the game can beat a random element."
- Matt Finch (source)
This could be illustrative of the differences between Matt's modules and The Dungeon Delver's modules. If most of the play is done outside of dice resolution, then that's going to be mostly non-combat; whereas The Dungeon Delver's post brings to mind much dice rolling. But of course there's flexibility in how the two quotes can be interpreted.