Dragonlance Dragons of Renewal Re-Upload

Libertad

Hero
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Making your own character is one of the greatest joys of role-playing.
Who is your Hero of the Lance?
What stories will they share around the campfire?

Note: These were originally posted many years ago on my blog. In the event that Blogspot ends, I wanted to transfer the contents to a more recent source.

Valkyria Chronicles Original Soundtrack: War in the Empire

In the dark heart of the Dragon Empire, a Council of Highlords is called in the Temple of Takhisis. Some come fresh from the frontlines of conquest, others from occupied provinces fully cowed into submission, but the one thing they share is that they number among the most powerful people on Ansalon. Five figures sit at a grand table in a circular chamber, four of them in front of a colored flag representing their army; one seat is empty. The figure who stood beneath the terrible statue of the five-headed dragon goddess, clad in black plate mail with a crimson cape and a bright gold crown, is none other than Emperor Ariakas.

A man with stern features weathered by the hands of his desert homeland, the Green Dragon Highlord is the first to speak. “The rebels of Pashin are no more, My Lord. Our aerial cavalry and the wizards’ Black Robe Regiment saw to it that they’ll disturb the occupation effort no more.”

The Emperor's eyes gave movement as they laid upon the Green Dragon Highlord. “And this means that your Khurish brethren now know their place?” he asked.

The Highlord sighed. “Unfortunately they are but one of the many dissident groups agitating revolution. Every son and daughter killed by the Empire will see another clan mate pick up their sword and continue the fight anew. After the Silvanesti Campaign my resources are stretched thin as it is!”

The Black Dragon Highlord, an imposing mountain of green muscle and spiked monster hides, let out a laugh. “You haven’t been doing it right, Salah-Khan!” he exclaimed. “The populace of Eastern Ansalon are thoroughly cowed by my warriors, even as my reserve units are sent to supplement the rest of you. Oh you can fight all right, but you can’t strike fear into the hearts of the people like my ogres can!”

The Emperor raised a gauntleted hand, and then the room fell silent. “Highlord Salah-Khan, we cannot afford any more discord to spread among southeastern Ansalon. If you feel that you are not up to the task of controlling your own people, then you can always step down so that I can find a worthier candidate to don your armor.”

“That won’t be necessary, sir!” Salah-Khan said. “I’ll wipe out the last of Khurish resistance by the end of the year!”

“Very good,” the Emperor replied, his hands bridged over as he contemplated visions of war and conquest. “What is the progress of the Solamnic invasion, Highlord Autenberg?”

The Blue Dragon Highlord struck a pale and willowy frame, one which seemed out of place at this meeting were it not for his piercing glare. “My forces have all but conquered northern and eastern Solamnia, my Lord. The only hints of significant rebellion were among the Knights of the realm, who in spite of their disgraced status cannot contemplate surrender. The peasant communes and petty barons who dared stand against us thought twice once they saw the power of dragonfire. Those who still live surrendered or fled deeper into the heartland. It is only due to Solamnia’s size that the Empire hasn’t claimed it whole yet, but that time will shortly come to pass.”

This left the chair of the Red Dragon Highlord empty, still presided over by armored draconians in spite of his absence. As though to answer the lingering question on the lips of Takhisis’ faithful, an overweight hobgoblin wearing ill-fitting chainmail stumbled into the chamber, out of breath yet still stuttering to form a sentence.

“You dare grace this sacred ground unannounced?!” Highlord Lucien exclaimed as his hand moved to his clockwork crossbow. “Show some respect in front of the Emperor, worm!”

His concealed visage expressing no hint of approval nor disproval, Emperor Ariakas merely rose from his throne and locked eyes with the hobgoblin.

“Speak quickly, hobgoblin,” he said. “Where is Highlord Verminaard?”

“You see…your graciousness…um, er, he’s dead. We were to invade Thorbadin, but he died fighting…umm, it was some adventurers responsible for the slave revolts in Abanasinia. I saw him cut down with my very eyes by a gnome clad in a smoking metal frame, and a red-robed elven maiden summoned spirits to scatter the Theiwar loyalists!"

The hobgoblins was short of breath. "One of the dwarves even wielded magic of the old gods! A medallion which shined, much like our warpriests of Takhisis, only this one…it had a different symbol…one of silver and blue.”

The crackling flames which still burned within the five-headed statues’ mouth glimmered hues of white, black, red, blue, and green upon the Emperor of Ansalon. There is a long silence, as all the Highlords look to their Emperor. Then he spoke.

“So the Gods of Light decide to show their hand. No matter, they arrived far too late; the peoples’ hearts still remember the hammer that brought down Istar and plunged the realm into chaos for three hundred years. They will not honor the gods who plunged a golden era into the Age of Despair. They will honor the Goddess who took the relics of old Istar back to the people. Once Her Empire stretches from the islands of the Bloodsea to the sick old kingdom that is Ergoth, they will see how the devotees of Takhisis forged a new Age of Might upon Krynn. It will not be the hand of Light which brought renewal, but the specter of Darkness instead.”

“So…should we move to claim Thorbadin then?” Salah-Khan asked.

“No,” Ariakas answered. “If there’s one thing I learned about the devotees of Light from old Istar, it’s that they have an incessant need to spread their word to all corners of Ansalon. They will not remain in Thorbadin for long, they will likely come to Tarsis or Ergoth to find a home for the refugees, or Solamnia. Each of you send word out to your officers to keep alert for any new religions with priests bearing medallions of faith, and to make an example of those who wear the symbols of the old gods. This meeting is over now.”

The Highlords and Toede saluted in unison. “Tiamat Aeterna!” they exclaimed before exiting the chamber.


Dragonlance is one of the oldest, and most controversial D&D settings out there. Although it has its fair share of problematic elements (coughkendercough), it really is a unique and innovative setting. For its time it was revolutionary, bringing a story of Epic Fantasy to the game when almost all adventures revolved around dungeon-delving for gold and glory. Its book series drew in millions of readers, it brought about the concept of subraces and dwarves/elves/etc having their own cultural groups which did not always see eye to eye.

In spite of its linearity in places, the appeal of your PCs being the scions of hope in a desolate world, bringing knowledge of the Gods back to Krynn, recovering the fabled Dragonlances and being astride the beasts of legend to fight the Dark Queen's empire? There is plenty of great story seeds within the original Dragonlance Chronicles, enough that I want to take the original adventure and revamp various elements to be more accessible for modern generation of gamers, both old-school and new, as well as smoothing out some story and mechanics-related problems.

The Dragonlance Chronicles has the potential to be a great adventure series. Yet they take a lot of work and modification by the DM to be fully enjoyable. Be it the narrow confines of the artificial railroad, aspects of the game which don't translate well across Editions, or the lingering moral quandaries of the Cataclysm and good-aligned elven racists, I hope to address as many as I can. For the times where I focus on system mechanics, I'll give out suggestions based on the Editions/retroclones I am most familiar with: Basic D&D and 3rd Edition/Pathfinder, and how one might adopt Dragonlance to these rulesets.

Love it or hate it, Dragonlance is a campaign setting unlike many others, and I do hope to run it at least once in my life. Stay tuned for my next post where I discuss character creation and some over-arching modifications.
 

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Libertad

Hero
Dragons of Renewal: Character Creation

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Artwork by Larry Elmore

So the original Chronicles had the idea that the players would take control of the heroes from the book series, such as Tanis, Laurana, and later additions such as Tika as new choices as the adventure progressed. The reality is that most players I know prefer making their own heroes, and the typical party of 8 as done with the original Heroes is often too many to keep track of over the course of the game. As such, this post details character creation of one's own characters.

So at the start of the Chronicles, the PCs average around 5th level; the 3rd Edition version mentions that for groups of four PCs, their levels should be 7th. However, I don't think that such a thing can translate well regarding levels and party size in either OSR or Pathfinder.

I'd also like to note that Jester David on the Dragonlance forums ran a successful Chronicles game with Pathfinder, and I'd recommend reading it to see how he handled the more common problems in the campaign. His campaign journal's split up into three separate threads:

Dragons of Autumn Twilight

Dragons of Winter Night

Dragons of Spring Dawning

Edit: The forum that hosted Jester's threads no longer exists. They have however, been Web Archived, or at least the first pages.

Character Creation (Pathfinder)

I find that Jester's outline does a pretty good job of adopting Dragonlance tropes to Pathfinder. Here are his documents for player options, deity domains, and monster and NPC stat blocks. Edit: Dragonlance Forums don't exist anymore.


Character Creation (Swords & Wizardry)
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Dragonlance has a 3rd Edition sourcebook which can be converted to the Pathfinder system with little trouble. There are versions for 1st and 2nd Edition AD&D as well. But among the OSR the most popular retro-clones derive from Basic D&D, which to my knowledge has no official Dragonlance material supporting it.

Due to the inter-connectivity of OSR games, and the separation of race and class, I opted to go with Swords & Wizardry Complete. Although sample race and class restrictions are provided below, it is also my opinion to ease up on the class restrictions and level caps. Given the diversity of cultural groups among the races (Dragonlance actually started the trend of subraces), and the fact that the campaign can easily go to higher levels, such restrictions I feel will not be to the Chronicles' benefit. Let a character of any race take any class they want: imagine a dwarven cleric bringing the words of Mishakal to the Lords of Thorbadin, or a goblin ranger using what he learned in the dangerous wilds of Ansalon to strike at the Dragonarmies.

Naturally this might make it so that humans don't really have anything special, as even the four classes once exclusive to them are available to everybody. To make up for this, I recommend granting human PCs the ability to add +2 to the ability score of their choice, to a maximum of 18.

Alignment

Good and Evil are much more important than Law and Chaos, but as Swords & Wizardry uses a three-pronged alignment system this is easy enough to change.

There are three alignments: Light, Neutrality, and Darkness. For game mechanics purposes such as Cleric spells, Light is Law and Darkness is Chaos. Light reflects compassion, justice, charity, and a willingness to help make the world a better place. Neutrality reflects balance, caring more for yourself and your immediate social circle or community, and the prizing of freedom of will and individualism. Darkness reflects evil, hatred, control, and dominance. As the Dragonlance Chronicles follow the classic "save the world from the evil empire" plot, the majority of the party should be Light or Neutral, and the inclusion of a player with Darkness alignment should be discussed by the group.

Races

Humans follow the baseline rules and are otherwise unaltered.

Dwarves follow the same basic rules as their core counterparts. Dark dwarves are different in that they can be Assassins or Magic-Users instead of Fighters or Thieves.

Gully Dwarves do not have the dwarven propensity for stonework, and instead are capable of eking out a living in even the most inhospitable climes.

Elves of the Qualinesti and Silvanesti clans follow the standard rules for their core counterparts. Kagonesti elves take levels in Ranger instead of Magic-User.

Gnomes gain a +1 bonus when using missile weapons, a 3 in 6 chance of detecting architectural and mechanical mishaps, and a +3 bonus on rolls related to the subject of their Life Quest (GM's discretion). Due to the versatility of their studies, they may advance in any class.

Goblinoids gain a +1 bonus when using melee weapons (hobgoblins) or missile weapons (goblins). Both can see in the dark up to 60 feet. They can advance as Assassins, Clerics, Fighters, or Thieves.

Kender are mechanically identical to halflings, but trade in the +4 saves against magic in exchange for a complete immunity to fear effects.

Ogres treat any weapons they wield as reach weapons due to their height, start with an additional starting hit die, and can see in the dark up to 60 feet. They can only progress as Fighters or Thieves.

Minotaurs have horns as a natural weapon which deal 1d4 points of damage plus any modifiers from the Fighter class or a high Strength and can see in the dark up to 60 feet. They can progress as Assassins, Fighters, Paladins, or Thieves.

Irda can change shape to take the physical appearance of any human or ogre-sized humanoid race. They can progress as Clerics, Druids, Magic-Users, or Thieves.

Classes



The core classes are more or less unchanged, with the special exceptions below.

Clerics, Druids, Paladins, and Rangers: At the campaign's start, clerics and druids not in service to the Gods of Darkness cannot access spellcasting or the ability to turn undead. At least one of the PCs is intended to take the role of the Prophet, the character stand-in for Goldmoon who brings knowledge of the true gods back to Krynn with the discovery of the Disks of Mishakal. The Prophet needs to use the Blue Crystal Staff to channel spells and turn undead until the Disks are discovered. This restriction applies to rangers capable of casting cleric spells, although PCs of this class will discover the return of the true gods long before they reach the required level.

Similarly, Paladins are treated as Fighters of equal level until they learn of the true gods, and then they can trade in their Fighter levels for Paladin.

Magic-Users: Unless they opt to be a renegade, a Magic-User PC is assumed to start play as belonging to one of the Three Orders of High Sorcery depending on their alignment, and are attuned to one of the three moons corresponding with their order's color and patron: White Robes for Solinari and Light, Red Robes for Lunitari and Balance, or Black Robes and Nuitari for Darkness. When their moon is at High Sanction (full or waxing gibbous), they can prepare one addition spell of their highest-level spell slot per day, to a minimum of zero. At Low Sanction (new or waning crescent) they prepare one less spell of their highest-level spell slot per day, to a minimum of zero.

An alignment of two moons, even at Low Sanction, is a boon to the wizards attuned to that moon: they gain one additional spell of their highest-level slot. Three moons at Low Sanction provide this bonus as well. But if all three moons are at High Sanction (known as the Night of the Eye), they can prepare three additional spells of their highest-level spell slot that day.

GMs who do not wish to track the moons can instead waive the game mechanics, or roll 1d8 to determine the moon phase that day if it becomes relevant.

Finally, the PC already passed the Test of High Sorcery, and as a result is physically marked in a way reflective of their personality. This is usually meant to reflect the mage's flaws so as to have a lasting reminder of the price they paid for magic, as well as a way to better themselves.

Organizations: Around 9th to 14th level, Swords & Wizardry classes can establish fortresses, guilds, monasteries, or wizard's towers. As the Dragonlance Chronicles are quite mobile, a stationary base of operations is impractical for this type of campaign. Instead, adventurers of this level can fame and prestige as freedom fighters against the Dragonarmies and create networks to call upon for favors and men-at-arms.

Regarding the Ranger, they can only choose either Ascetic or Champion for their 9th level benefit, but not both.

Ascetic (Druid/Monk/Ranger): At 9th level, the PC is one with the land and can comfortably subsist on the most meager of meals and can sleep with total exposure to the elements. They can extend this benefit to up to 12 other people traveling with them.

Champion (Cleric/Fighter/Paladin/Ranger): At 9th level, the PC's participation in battles against the Dark Queen's forces spreads far and wide. They can gain free room and housing in modest dwellings for themselves and their party among members of the resistance. They can also call a number of men-at-arms they'd normally gain with a stronghold in friendly territories, half that number in territories occupied by the Dragon Empire.

Spymaster (Assassin/Thief): At 9th level the PC establishes or ingratiates themselves into a far-reaching intelligence community of bandits, bards, fences, informants, and similar folk. When in a city of at least 1,000 people, they can ask one of their contacts about the overall political landscape of the region, troop and army movements, and Dragonarmy activity. They can also pass along secret information; assume that the information takes one week of travel for every 50 miles between the city and the destination.

Wizard of High Sorcery (Magic-user): At 9th level the PC gains great prestige within their order of Robes. They gain a limited-use magic item which can whisk them away to the Tower of Wayreth once per month. While there, they gain access to unmatched facilities for research, magic item creation, and ritual casting. They can also recruit low-lever magic-users of the same order to accompany them on adventures.

Starting Level & Equipment (Swords & Wizardry)



The original Companions started out at 5th level. I recommend having the PCs start the game with 32,000 experience points. This puts them at levels 5 or 6 depending on their class. However, instead of gaining experience points per encounter, a set amount is provided at the end of each adventure within the arc. This will be handled in later posts regarding the adventures themselves.

Wealth-by-level is not as important in this retroclone as it is in other Editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Still, the Companions started play with some pretty good gear, including a treasured family heirloom, a staff and dagger wielded by the legendary Magius, and a Blue Crystal Staff the Dragonarmies of Solace are searching for in the region.

The PCs begin play with 500 gp each worth of starting gold.

Each of the below benefits apply only once per PC. For PCs who have levels in the same class, pick whichever seems more appropriate based on backstory. Otherwise, roll a dice, with the odds for one PC and the evens for the other.

A PC with a backstory in the Knights of Solamnia, a family bloodline of heroes, or who has a similar legacy begins play with a unique +1 magic sword as a family heirloom: either the GM can pick the result, or roll randomly on Table 93 of S&W Complete for its powers.

A PC who has levels in Cleric or Druid starts play with the Blue Crystal Staff.

A PC who has levels in Magic-User starts play with the Dagger of Magius (+1 dagger which cannot be found by mundane or magical means of searching the holder's body) and the Staff of Magius (as a Staff of Wizardry, Table 103 of S&W Complete).

The remaining PCs have one piece of weapon and one suit of armor on their person gain an automatic +1 bonus. As magic items are meant to be unique and rare finds with their own storyline, such equipment counts as being merely exceptional rather than true magic. However, any weapon or armor with an enhancement bonus (magical or not) scales with level. At 9th level such weapons and armor have a minimum +2 bonus when wielded by PCs, and +3 at 13th level.

Splitting the Party




The Dragonlance Chronicles are split into three parts: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning. During the Autumn saga, the party is more or less comprised of one group. During their stop in the City of Tarsis an aerial assault by the Blue Dragonarmy causes the party to split up and flee in different directions. One party covers the Winter arc, the other the Spring arc. In the final chapter of Spring Dawning do the PCs reunite for a last final assault on Takhsis' Empire.

There have been discussions on how to handle this, but story-wise the events of Winter Night do not flow into Spring Dawning in a linear fashion. If done that way, the Winter-end party will be very high-level for the intended challenges at the start of Spring.

There are a few ways to handle this. In any case, this should be told to the players ahead of time before the campaign even begins. That the party will split at a certain point and embark on their separate quests.

Just Play One of Them: One option is to simply excise the events of Winter or Spring save for its final chapter, and go on this way. This cuts out quite a bit of story content, and makes the Chronicles much shorter. If doing this route, I recommend going with Dragons of Winter Night. This adventure has the more iconic moments in my view, such as the discovery and reforging of the Dragonlances, the Battle at the High Clerist's Tower, and the infiltration of Sanction to discover the Dragon Empire's secret in keeping the good dragons out of the war.

Play both: If you play both, I recommend alternating between the two instead of playing one arc to its conclusion. Both of them progress to a climax of sorts, and the latter chapters of both involve turning the tide against the Dragonarmies in a big way.

If you choose to split the party, then have the PCs face two major leads in Tarsis: the Solamnic Knights study of the Dragon Orb and its rumored location in Icewall Glacier, and Princess Alhana Starbreeze of Silvanesti wishing to hire them in exchange for revealing the location of the Dragonlances in her royal treasury. Have the PCs meet both groups before the Dragonarmies invade Tarsis, let them get to know the characters and formulate plans so that when the naughty word hits the fan they have a good idea of where to go from there.

On that note, this can be a good opportunity to create additional PCs to shore up low numbers, and the meeting in Tarsis provides a good avenue for new folk to appear.

Scrying, Teleportation, and the like: In the mid to higher levels of Dungeons & Dragons, distance becomes less and less of an issue with access to powerful magic. If both parties have spellcasters in their groups, it is likely that they can find a way to keep in touch during their respective quests.

Do not try to limit this; coordinating efforts from afar can be a useful tool, something a band of freedom fighters going up against a tyrannical empire would use. But encourage separation in most circumstances to avoid the pitfalls of a large party in battle. Ansalon is a huge continent, and having separate groups can be beneficial so that the Dragonarmies' minions can't track them so easily while gaining the opportunity to strike a blow to the Empire in the East and the West.

Next Time: I plan on covering overall campaign outlines to consider for the adventure as a whole, rather than the beginning, middle, or end. Things like playing up Emperor Ariakas, finding a suitably dramatic and personalized replacement for Kitiara, and the thorny issue that is the Cataclysm.
 
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Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal: Overarching Themes​



Laurana the Golden General by Larry Elmore

Before a campaign starts one must address the typical issues with the players: whether or not they find the proposed idea engaging, whether it's going to be a short arc or a long-runner, whether they already read said module, etc. This post is all about this, albeit with things specific to the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Lack of Magic Item Shops (Pathfinder)

This is not as debilitating as it is in Swords & Wizardry, but in Pathfinder the wealth by level guidelines assume a minimum amount of items in the PCs' possession at certain levels. Although I addressed this in last post the idea of scaling magic items for Swords & Wizardry, here I find an alternate ruleset in Pathfinder Unchained to be optimal for the newer ruleset. Automatic Bonus Progression does away with the Big Six requirements of things such as trading in +1 swords for +3 swords, the necessity of Cloaks of Resistance, and the like by making bonuses inherently scaling with level. That way PCs don't have to load themselves down with magic items like walking Christmas tree ornaments. This still leaves room for the more unorthodox magic items such as flying carpets, bags of tricks, and the like which still have value.

The 3rd Edition Dragonlance sourcebooks suggest a pool of bonus experience points for spellcasters to create magic items. As Pathfinder does away with exp costs, I instead recommend a pool of spell points equal to gold pieces on a 1-1 basis representing resources and research notes for PCs to build their own items. I recommend keeping them equal 1/5th the wealth by level guidelines, or halving them if using the Automatic Bonus Progression house rule. The Points below are the total for each level and not refreshed. Meaning that a PC who goes from 5th to 6th level gains 1,100 Spell Points.

Level Spell Points
5 2,100
6 3,200
7 4,700
8 6,600
9 9,200
10 12,400
11 16,400
12 21,600
13 28,000
14 37,000

Kender, Gully Dwarves, and Gnomes: The Comic Relief Trio



A sizable amount of gamers, even those who do not regularly play Dragonlance, have a burning hatred of these races, kender especially. In many cases this is due to players using kender as an opportunity to engage in disruptive shenanigans which are a headache for everyone else. Gully dwarves get a bad rap because of extreme stupidity being a defining character trait. As for the gnomes, many folk don't like their absent-minded professor archetype and unreliable advanced technology, but personally I don't see them or gully dwarves as problematic as kender.

Aside from dislike, the three are meant to be comic relief races, and the thing with humor is that it's subjective. There's a difference between how humor is conveyed written versus verbally, and the same for humor that appears while reading a book versus playing a game session. There might be one gamer who loves the comic relief trio's personality quirks, and another who finds them more annoying and wants that part of the session to end and get on with the rest of the adventure.

So, what should we do? I have a few proposed fixes below, which I wrote some time ago elsewhere:

1. Kender Redux: Keep the Kender penchant for curiosity, fearlessness, and generally optimistic outlook on life. But have them capable of understanding the concept of property and don't have the incessant need to "borrow" stuff.

Especially in eras like the Age of Despair, taking even a minor object such as a woodcutter's axe makes a noticeable drain on small communities. Without the axe, the woodcutter can't chop wood, and he won't be able to do his job if he can't find a replacement tool. That's just one Kender; imagine the havoc an entire community of them will wreak on nearby settlements!

Revised Kender should understand that taking objects without permission can result in hardship and misery for others; given that Kender are optimistic and want to be everyone's friend, they wouldn't want to deprive others of things without good reason.

Instead of "borrowing" play up the other aspects of Kender. They might hear of an art gallery opening in town, and be utterly determined to become the best painter ever in spite of having no training. They might offer to trade or part with items in exchange for an interesting tale. They might over-prepare for long journeys and spend their money on objects only useful in highly-implausible circumstances ("ten pounds of salt just in case we end up fighting monster slugs"). Such things are less likely to lead to the breakdown of trust which usually results in PCs stealing from the party or getting the entire group into trouble for taking something they shouldn't.

2. Gully Dwarf Redux: The origin of the Aghar, or Gully Dwarves, is unclear. Many people say that they're the result of dwarves and tinker gnomes mating, but many of the theory's proponents bandy it about as justification for the Aghar's poor treatment.

The Aghar lived in the prosperous mountain kingdom of Thorbadin. They were the lowest rung on the caste of Dwarven society. Their ancestors were the dishonered, criminals, outcasts, the insane, and other folk looked down upon by society. The Aghar were relegated to the slums and forced into the most menial and dangerous of jobs. Since the "high" dwarves believed that their system was favored by Reorx, they taught their children that the status quo was just and that the Aghar deserved their fate.

The Aghar did not care much for this way of thinking, and turned their backs on the traditional pantheon of deities for their perceived abandonment. The Aghar strove to become better people in this life to prove to Thorbadin that they were worthy of dignity.

Thorbadin's Aghar eagerly joined the military in the Dwarfgate Wars on both sides. Those fighting against the hill dwarves hoped that their service would grant them the status of "high" dwarf, while those who fought with the hill dwarves sought to overthrow their nation's oppressive system.

After the Hill Dwarves lost, the Aghar loyal to Thorbadin were denied entry back into their mountain home. Enraged, the formerly loyal Aghar swore that they would never be loyal to any non-Aghar from this day forward. The Aghar who served on the other side of the war forged a pact with them, telling them that they will always find a home among their fellow Aghar.

And so the Aghar lived throughout the Age of Despair, roaming Ansalon in nomadic bands. They would camp near towns and offer their services as sellswords and laborers. Like their Dwarven hold of old, they lived on the fringes of society; except now, they were free men and women, pledged to no city-state, nation, or deity.

I don't feel that a Gnome Redux is necessary because personally, it shouldn't take much to make them non-humorous. Gnomish advanced technology can still be unreliable, and given how much nations act in the Age of Despair they may not be so keen on introducing more potentially dangerous knowledge into the hands of the humans, dwarves, elves, and other races in the Age of Despair.

The Kitiara Replacement


Kitiara and the Dragon Army by DarkAkelarre of deviantart

Kitiara is one of the major villains of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Formerly one of the heroes' adventuring companions, sister to the Majere twins and lover of Tanis, her status is more personal and connected than the remoteness of Emperor Ariakas or Takhisis the Dark Queen. Unlike other villains such as Verminaard, her background allows her to exploit the party's weaknesses such as the love Tanis and Laurana have for each other (and the love Tanis still harbors for Kitiara).

The base adventure features her as a recurring villain during the Dragons of Spring arc, although with a custom-created party with no ties to the original characters Kitiara loses her uniqueness. She just becomes yet another major enemy general of the Dragonarmies to vanquish, like Verminaard or Feal-Thas. Still, I think that the idea of a major villain with a personal connection to the party is a great idea, and replacing her with an NPC tailor-made to your group is a worthy endeavor. If one or more of the players read the book series, consider asking them privately for ideas in case you want to keep things a surprise for the rest of the group when the reveal comes.

Appearances: Kitiara herself does not appear until the early Dragons of Spring arc when the eastern team of the party goes to the town of Flotsam. From then on she appears several more times: twice during Dragons of Faith, the first during an assault in the Blood Sea to retrieve Berem the Green Gemstone Man on the PC's ship, another time on the shipwrecked islands of Karthay for the same task. The final time is in Dragons of Triumph when the Dragon Highlords reunite at the city of Neraka to prepare for their goddess' re-entry into the world to turn the tide of the war once and for all.

There are two false appearances, one during Dragons of Shadows when a Dreamshadow illusion appears to the PCs, and another time during Dragons of Faith when the aurak draconian Gildentongue disguised as her fights the PCs in the underwater ruins of Istar.

Now that you know in what instances she appears in the adventure and her relationship to the party, you can get a sense of what to prepare for while designing your Kitiara Replacement. Below are a few suggestions.

The Friendship Betrayed: In this scenario, Kitiara's replacement is much like the standard Chronicles. When the Companions meet for the second time at the Inn of the Last Home in the village of Solace, Tanis reveals that Kitiara could not make it due to employment by a new lord. In your custom Chronicle, once the PCs reunite together they notice that one of their own is missing. The truth is that she's joined the Dragonarmies. Some of the group may have heard this but unwilling to believe it, or all might be kept in the dark.

The Fallen Knight: This scenario works best if one or more PCs belong to the Knights of Solamnia. Kitiara's replacement turned on her order and her country to join the Dragonarmies. Perhaps she grew tired of the knighthood's failures as one too many members forgot the spirit of the Oath and Measure and instead sees something in Takhisis' new order. Maybe she fell for the Emperor's honeyed words of how his reign brought order, unity, and magic back to a devastated continent, and Solamnia can one day know this glory as well.

For another idea, perhaps she's a Wizard of High Sorcery instead, and was a good friend and classmate to a wizard PC. Before they set off into the world, she joined the Order of Black Robes and got recruited into the Dragonarmies like many others of her number.

The Vengeful Scholar: This backstory may work best if you use an alternative explanation for the Cataclysm detailed below. In the original Chronicles, the Companions went their own ways to discover whether or not the True Gods returned to Krynn before reuniting at the Inn of the Last Home. Kitiara's replacement might have journeyed alone, to the undersea ruins of Istar, the Glitterpalace, the restored Temple of Istar in Neraka, or some other location connected to the gods or the Cataclysm. While there she discovered the role the Gods of Light (Paladine most notably) played in the Cataclysm and the 300 years of darkness and devastation which happened in its wake.

Upon learning that Takhisis restored the old temple and brought back clerical magic to the gathered pilgrims in Neraka, she listened to Ariakas' speeches. Of how the Gods of Light abandoned the world and how Takhisis seeks to bring about the prior golden age of Istar back to Krynn. Motivated by hatred of Paladine's senseless slaughter, witnessing the magic of clerics binding grievous wounds and eradicating disease, she saw the Dragon Empire as the last, best hope Ansaslon has to climb out of the Age of Despair and into a New Age of Might.

Playing up Emperor Ariakas


Emperor of Ansalon by Jess Easley

Dullcet Ariakas was chosen as the Dark Queen's personal emissary on Krynn. It was he who commanded the Dragonarmies, recreated the Flying Citadel, and whose military victories were vital to the Empire's expansion across Krynn. All five Dragon Highlords owe fealty to him, at least on the surface, and by extension Takhisis.

However, his screen-time in both the books and adventures is minimal. He shows up during the final chapter of Dragons of Winter arc, Dragons of Deceit, and even then he's more of a background element or optional encounter. The PCs have a chance to directly confront him in Dragons of Triumph with one of the three selected endings in a climactic battle. But when it comes to the face of the enemy in the Chronicles, that role falls to Verminaard during the Dragons of Autumn arc and mostly Kitiara during Dragons of Spring.

As described in this RPGnet thread, Ariakas was a "critically important bit character," a person who doesn't even have much in the way of official artwork (the only other official piece I found of him had him in a rather undignified pose pinned down by Tanis' foot).

Although there are several popular works of fiction where the evil emperor is overshadowed by other villains (Star Wars, Final Fantasy VI), it still feels odd that Ariakas doesn't even get so much as a mention earlier on in the adventure series, and depending on the characterization of the Kitiara replacement he may very well end up being the major bad guy of the campaign. Such a figure deserves more of a build-up over time.

Cut Scenes: Consider the use of cut-scenes, where the action jumps away from the PCs to the heart of the Empire. For better interactivity, you might consider having one of the players control the Kitiara Replacement in their dealings with the Empire's leaders. This allows the players at the table to get a better look at the main villain even if their PCs do not.

Rumors: Have Ariakas' name pop up several times over the course of the Chronicles. Even better, assign him titles and rumors in line with his vaunted nature: have the Solamnic Knights and Elves call him the Hammer of Krynn, an epithet comparing him to the Cataclysm in the destruction he wrought. Have people in occupied territories speak of how he turned an assassin in Sanction to dust with but a pointing gesture. Dragonarmy officers and dark pilgrims of Takhisis speak fondly of his speeches in Neraka's old Colosseum. Consider scattering autobiographical propaganda books written by the Emperor among the treasures of Dragonarmy soldiers, telling his ascent from a poor boy with an abusive father to his pilgrimage to the old temple of Neraka, and how it's due to the Dark Queen's gift that he can wield magic.

The Cataclysm


Interior artwork from Holy Orders of the Stars


The Cataclysm is the elephant in the room of Dragonlance morality. Although the themes of good and evil are an element in Dungeons & Dragons, in Dragonlance Chronicles they are huge themes. As the alignment system is intermixed with morality, and often changes definitions over the decades as new Editions come about, Dragonlance is often subject to the common problems and arguments. But in several cases they are exemplified, most notably in the case of the Cataclysm.

For those not in the know, one of the largest empires of the setting was Istar, an increasingly repressive theocracy whose Kingpriest wished to wipe the world of evil. This ended up turning the empire into a tyranny: races deemed "evil" or incompatible with Istaran norms were exterminated or enslaved (including a bounty on kender), and even neutral-aligned religions were deemed to bear the shadow of darkness and outlawed.

The Kingpriest felt that he could challenge Paladine himself, who he viewed as weak in "permitting evil to thrive."

There's no doubt that Istar was repressive and the result of much suffering, and the Legends of the Twins sourcebook indicates an alternate reality where the Kingpriest was successful in his bid for godhood. This has terrible implications: one out of three living beings upon Krynn would die from the onslaught of magical energy upon his ascension, and Paladine would be bound in a spiritual cage as the Kingpriest became a living avatar of divine power.

But in the main timeline, after several failed warnings and assassination attempts, the gods decided to send a "fiery mountain" crashing down upon Istar's capital. This resulted in a significant portion of the eastern continent to fall under the waves as the land was rent asunder. The gods then left the world for 350 years, as mortals put their faith in a flawed and tyrannical mortal instead of them, and so began the Age of Despair as the land of Ansalon fell into suffering and woe.

The Cataclysm in Canon: So that's the official explanation. Naturally it doesn't sit well with many gamers, and there's some internal inconsistencies.

One, is the dilemma of widespread destruction. One of my players once described the Cataclysm as "understandable, but still evil in the grand scheme of things." Yes Istar's rule was terrible and the gods may very well had no choice but to resort to something so drastic, but the fact of the matter is that it's consigning millions of people to death and suffering, and not just the land who fell under the waves from the meteor. The Cataclysm affected geography and weather patterns all across the planet of Krynn, including Ergoth which was split in two.

Two, one of the underlying plot arcs of the original Chronicles is that the gods did not leave the world, that mortals left them instead. This may very well be true for Istar, yet the setting makes reference to races and communities still loyal, who even in absence still wait for their return. The dwarves kept the temple forges glowing even in the absence of their patron creator. As it's expected that one of the PCs will be the Prophet who reveals the return of the non-evil gods to Ansalon's people, this is undoubtedly an issue which will come up.

Three, Dragonlance has a concept known as the Balance where too much Good or Evil is equally harmful. To show this, the side of Good isn't so "good." The Empire of Istar, in spite of its many purges and forms of oppression, was in fact a good-aligned regime, and the Kingpriest's canon alignment is Lawful Good. A similar trend can be seen among the Qualinesti and Silvanesti elves, who if they were anything other than elves would most likely get saddled with the Evil alignment. This ends up in a case where the neutral deities are the most admirable, whose tenets of free will is something a lot of gamers might find compelling other than the oppressive authoritarianism of Light and Darkness.

An Alternative Cataclysm: the Retreat

So right now I've been working on a variant. This one presents the Cataclysm as more muddied and presents the changing point in Krynn's history not as a unanimous decision among the divine, but a fraught and troubled action which ultimately questioned their role in the world. I still want to keep as much of the themes of the adventure path intact, and provide an incentive to view the return of the Gods of Light as ultimately a good thing. This alternate is meant to inject a murkier sense of justice in the gods' decisions, as well as providing impetus for the Dragon Empire's popularity in resentment against the old gods for the Age of Despair. At the same time, I wanted to give an explanation for why the Gods of Light and Balance aren't taking a more active hand in combating Takhisis' Empire. There is strong indication that the Nerakans of the Taman Busuk region are the descendants of old Istar due to a shared alphabet, and swooping in as powerful avatars to stop the Dragonarmy would bear too much similarity to what they did with the Kingpriest.

Without further ado, the Cataclysm and the Retreat.

The Kingpriest of Istar at the height of its power had a government, clergy, and populace who felt that they what they were doing was right and just. The doubters and opportunists existed, but they quelled their hypocrisies with rationalizations and double-think. What was once a bastion of Good set by Paladine’s examples strayed into the path of Evil. Slaves working the fields and condemned to blood sport in the Colosseum, ethnic cleansing of races and cultures deemed to be ‘inherently evil,’ religious persecution of benevolent religious orders, and the attempted ascension to godhood himself, the Kingpriest’s regime could not be Good except under the most warped of moral thinking.

Zivilyn, God of Wisdom, saw that if this continued, Paladine himself would be enslaved by an elaborate magical ritual with the Kingpriest as the most powerful being in the cosmos. This catastrophe will result in one out of three living beings on Krynn to die, from the smallest blade of grass to the longest-lived dragon. Ansalon would look like a graveyard world, entire sections of once-fertile plains turned into dusty fields made from the dead flesh of the once-lived.

The Gods of Light sent down many signs, but the damage was too far gone. Even when Paladine himself manifested as the Platinum Dragon in the empire’s capital and denounced the many crimes of the Kingpriest, the clergy convinced the citizens that this was trickery by the forces of evil. Divine portents went ignored, the true good-aligned remaining clerics hunted down and jailed, and Istar entered into an inescapable descent into depravity. Even the death of the Kingpriest would only allow for another corrupt lord to ascend his throne, and there came a time that in order to prevent an apocalypse, the deities of Krynn had to take action in a way which sent a message that the people had no choice to ignore.

A meteor in the shape of a divine hammer crashed down onto Istar’s capital, sending entire regions of eastern Ansalon plunging into the sea as millions died. This was far less than the loss of life and suffering than if the Kingpriest ascended, but even then the reverberations of Paladine’s brand of justice did not go unquestioned, even by his fellow Gods of Light.

The Cataclysm and its impending actions were debated and argued before, during, and after the devastation it wrought, with each deity having their own reasons and ethos for its justice or injustice. Even those who felt it was necessary still reeled at its implications.

“The role of a deity is to be a teacher, not a tyrant,” said Mishakal, Goddess of Community and Love. “Our edicts are so that mortals can see how our wisdom can make them help themselves and others. Should mortals follow our laws out of fear of punishment and not genuine devotion, then we have failed them.”

"If we continue to rule Krynn’s spiritual sphere after the Cataclysm, we would be worshiped out of fear,"
added Zivilyn, God of Wisdom. "Our dogma followed out of placating overwhelming powers with the specter of a second Cataclysm hanging over them forevermore. Better to retreat from the world and make the deities of Darkness do the same; better to be cursed and vindicated by mortals who feel abandoned than supposedly devoted ones screaming prayers to the heavens no different than pleas for mercy to vengeful gods. Otherwise we’d be no different than the Kingpriest, or Takhisis."

And so the Age of Despair began as the Gods voluntarily left the world.

Takhisis and the other Gods of Darkness were staunch supporters of the Cataclysm, long hating how Istar's reign saw their minions and plots destroyed time and time again. Even though Takhisis wormed her way into the hearts of foul-hearted priests clothed in the vestments of Paladine during the reign, she much preferred to rule openly and saw the devastation wrought as a fertile ground for power.

The people of Krynn cried out for the Gods' help, doing all sorts of things to try and earn their favor. Religious turmoil was at an all-time high as people tried praying to new gods, including ones they made up to give new meaning to their lives and reinterpretations of the old pantheon without clerics to commune with the divine. And many people cursed the gods, who felt that they did not deserve this fate, from Istaran survivors who felt betrayed for their devotion and former enemies of the Empire who could not understand why they suffered as well.

And so the gods watched. Takhisis found a way to reenter Krynn without the watchful gaze of the Gods of Light and Balance noticing. She transported the old temple of Istar from beneath the Blood Sea and transported it to Neraka. The people here were the descendants of the Istarans who fled to the mountains for safety as the torrential waters rose over their old lands; this new temple drew many pilgrims to it, and some of the more learned recognized the design as the old empire of their forebears. From goblins to dragons to humans, more and more people flocked to Neraka, some of them hearing the voice of the Five-Headed Dragon herself. They knew that there was a goddess who could answer their prayers, a goddess who sought renewal and order, a goddess who could help end the Age of Despair and bring a new Age of Might to the land.

The Dragon Empire made massive inroads in its first twenty years of existence. Aided by dragonfire and clerical magic they invested their power and resources into consolidating control of the mountains and earning the loyalty of outlying provinces. Most nations who came into contact with them quickly learned to fear them, and the metallic dragons could not intervene due to unknown reasons. The Black Robes of High Sorcery quickly cast their lot in with the Empire once they saw its nascent rise. The Red Robes cared little for an outside world which hated their kind, preferring to study magic for the sake of it. As for the White Robes, their ability to do good was limited by distrust in most lands of Ansalon.

Every year in the Age of Despair took its toll, and although bound by agreement Mishakal felt a sense of failure. She failed every time she refused to whisper to a crying child at the bedside of her dying parents; she could use her soothing words to know that death is only a greater step in the journey along the River of Souls. She failed every time she let a promising doctor whose heart was full of compassion get overwhelmed by the cruelties of the world. She failed every time she did not bestow divine grace upon the worthy, so that fewer souls might suffer in Despair.

Mishakal never forgot the Cataclysm, never forgot the words of Zivilyn and how with but a single action they could inadvertently send mortals down the wrong path, like what happened with Istar. But as she saw the hand of Takhisis moving, the battlefields of slaughtered dead, and the Empire's calling upon the glory days of Istar led by a sorcerous ruler who wore the same crown as the Kingpriest, she could sit by no more.

Paladine used overwhelming divine power to end Istar's evil, only to bring more of it into the world. She would follow another path in line with her role as healer and provider. Her influence on Krynn would be subtle, yet beneficial. And so she entered the dreams of a mortal in Abanasinia, showing them the location of the Blue Crystal Staff and Disks of Mishakal in Xak Tsaroth, so that her word may spread once again to the peoples of Krynn.


Next time we'll be covering Dragons of Autumn proper, specifically Dragons of Despair and Flame.
 
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Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal: DL1 Dragons of Despair​



Image by Clyde Caldwell

It's been a while since my last update. Nearly a year, in fact. A variety of factors came into play, for a while I was running the original Dragonlance Chronicles adapted for the 13th Age ruleset. As of last Saturday (September 17th), my players ended the campaign and saved Krynn from evil. It last a good 7 to 8 months, all with players I consider good friends, and plenty of DMing notes to spare for adaption into blog posts. Now would be a perfect time to delve back into things, and what better way than looking at the adventure that started it all?

Overview

Dragons of Despair opens up with the PCs venturing to the quiet burg of Solace to reunite at the Inn of the Last Home. While there they get hints of dark tidings, from the Seeker movement on the search for a Blue Crystal Staff to goblins being hired to search for it. The crux of the module is that the cleric/prophet PC begins play with this treasured artifact, which she obtained from the ruins of Xak Tsaroth before Dragonarmy forces moved in and forced her to flee. The PCs can gain information sources from various places on the goings-on in the land of Abanasinia lately, from Inn patrons to visiting the Lordcity of Haven. But all in all, the crux of the adventure is to get to Xak Tsaroth and find the Discs of Mishakal and help bring knowledge of the True Gods to Krynn. While in the dungeon, the PCs descend a multi-level flooded ruins and fight a black dragon guarding the Discs and a bunch of other treasure?

Things to Change/Look Out For


Lost Kender by Amy Clark of Deviantart


The module suggests the PCs coming back to Solace in separate groups, each with their own encounters along the way to tell the rest of the party that things are not alright. This may or may not be a good idea depending on your party makeup and how your players feel about sitting around doing nothing while their fellows participate in several pieces of combat.

Fewmaster Toede is a Dragonarmy flunky and recurring villain who ends up promoted several times simply due to his superiors kicking the bucket. He's an overweight, cowardly, and arrogant fool with little redeeming qualities who the PCs will meet several times during the Dragonlance Chronicles. One of the possible first encounters with him has him ordering hobgoblin lackeys to attack the party. Depending on how your players feel about recurring villains, it's entirely possible that Toede will get killed in this encounter, even if on a horse (ranged attacks and spells can be a game-changer). If the GM wants to keep Toede around, perhaps have his presence be near the edges: seeing him as a boisterous bully in Solace demanding families tell him of the Blue Crystal Staff, or if escaping from a Seeker patrol amidst the linked trees of Solace seeing Toede off in the distance barking orders.

The Initial Hook: It's assumed that the Cleric/Prophet PC with the Blue Crystal Staff was already at Xak Tsaroth. That PC could be a great way to get the rest of the party into going to the dungeon. However, the main hook provided is having a mysterious old man in the Inn of the Last Home tell them to take the artifact there as part of a great destiny. This may be a bit cliche and overt for many groups. Another way is to have rumors that evil's afoot off to the east, that a strange army of monsters now inhabits a set of old Istaran ruins in the swamps to the east.

Pax Tharkas Rumors: The Dragonarmies do not have an overt presence in Abanasinia yet, instead having draconian minions go about in concealing robes and acting through intermediaries such as Toede. Even so, they're transporting slaves and prisoners of war to a fortress to the south. A refugee first tells the PCs in overland encounter 38 (AD&D version), telling him the specifics. Do not do this; although he tells the PCs to not head south and go to Xak Tsaroth first, it's likely that the PCs are heroic in nature as Dragonlance doesn't work well with evil-aligned protagonists. Hearing of this may cause them to go south as a first priority, bypassing the Discs of Mishakal.

Instead keep the hints of slavery as a background element; a friend of a friend claiming that their cousin went missing one day in Haven, or that a certain nomadic Plains tribe wasn't seen in their usual location route in the autumn months.

Xak Tsaroth Dungeon Crawl: There are many rooms with low numbers of baaz draconians. Fighting them one after another can get tedious after a while due to low enemy variety. This is going to be a common theme in Dragons of Renewal, but cutting out extraneous encounters (especially ones where the enemies are little better than easily-defeated mooks) can help speed things up and allow for focus on the more interesting encounters.

Interesting encounters in Xak Tsaroth include: a Huge Spider in a cellar in the Upper Levels (51a in AD&D, UXT21 in 3.5), swarm of poisonous snakes in Dance on the Wall (59b or UXT39), exposition talks among some draconians in Assembly and Mess Hall (64d and 64h/LXT8 and LXT 12), bozak draconian's high priest office (has spellcasting ability, 70h/LXT41), and of course the black dragon Khisanth/Onyx in the bottom room, the Court of Balance!

Overall, there isn't as much things to change in this adventure plotwise, at least in comparison to the following adventure Dragons of Flame. The PCs have quite a bit of places to explore, both in Xak Tsaroth and overland.
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal DL 2: Dragons of Flame​



Artwork by Jeff Easley


The following chapter has a lot more revisions of mine than the last one, and for good reason. As one of the early adventures most gamers will be experienced with if they got through Xak Tsaroth, this module is infamous for railroading and contrived encounters. It still has quite a few highlights, and with some work it can be made into a great, epic adventure. However, as Dragonlance is very much in the "save the world from the evil empire" vein, I'm making the assumption that the PCs will have incentive to be altruistic and a reason to save people. If not, perhaps a patron or two (such as the Speaker of the Sun in Qualinesti) can persuade them with rewards.

Overview

The Red Dragonarmies made their move and took over much of Abanasinia while the PCs were dungeon-delving for the Disks of Mishakal. Burned and slaughtered nomad villages, besieged cities, and even overt draconian patrols riding on a red dragon! Regardless, the adventure points the PCs back to Solace. After getting captured and imprisoned by Fewmaster Toede's forces, they and several others are put into a prison transport on the way towards Pax Tharkas. A guerrilla force of Qualinesti elves led by Gilthanas assault the caravan, and the freed PCs have the opportunity to fight back their captors and help the others escape.

Following Gilthanas' forces back to the elven capital, the PCs interact with the elves and learn of the ancient Istaran ruins of Pax Tharkas where captured people are being held, and of a secret way inside. Toede's draconians manage to infiltrate Qualinost and kidnap Laurana, the elven princess.

The PCs infiltrate Pax Tharkas, and as they free the prisoners Verminaard, Red Dragon Highlord, and his dragon companion Ember attempt to slaughter the escapees. The pair are stopped by Flamestrike, a half-blind red dragon who held a motherly affection towards the child prisoners. She's able to buy the PCs time, only to die offscreen later.

Things to Change/Look Out For


Lost Kender by Amy Clark of Deviantart


Oh boy, where to begin? Inevitable PC capture? A climax where a red dragon steals the show only for her sacrifice to go unseen? A superfluous "kidnap the princess" where freeing hundreds of prisoners should be incentive enough? Well, let's start chronologically:

Travel back to Solace: So the PCs have some freedom to go around, although it's inevitable that they may hear of Pax Tharkas. Gilthanas might meet the PCs either at Solace in disguise, or fighting a group of trolls near Pax Tharkas should the party deign to go there before Solace. He wishes to go back to town to reunite with some of his comrades there, although this is not necessary: if it seems like the PCs are more interested in continuing to Pax Tharkas, have Gilthanas tell them of how prisoners are being taken there, and knows of the latest transport.

Infinite Draconian Respawn: You might be wondering how capture of the PCs is ensured in this part. Well when the party goes back to the Inn of the Last Home, Tika fills them in on how the town was besieged by a flying dragon who burned down most of the trees and how Seeker soldiers were slaughtered by the 'dragonmen.' Then some draconian soldiers burst in and make a scene, where Tika intervenes. If the PCs defeat them, Toede shows up with more soldiers to place them all under arrest. Any draconians killed or knocked out are replaced by more soldiers coming in from outside; it's assumed that the Inn is surrounded by a legion.

This is dumb; when I ran this scenario years ago in Pathfinder, the PCs were more than capable of escape via mount and fly spells, things the draconians didn't have access to. There's also the fact that the PCs might immediately go for killing Toede as the leader, which would make him no longer a recurring villain.

Keep the draconian bullies, keep the surrounded inn. However, allow the PCs to make a daring escape out of the Inn. Let Solace occupants such as Otik Sandath, Theros Ironfield, and Gilthanas' elves come to their aid with misdirections, horses, and the like. Their interference will get the townsfolk imprisoned later on, possibly allowing the PCs to feel indebted to rescue them and anger at the Dragonarmy's tyranny.

Hearing of their exploits if successful, Gilthanas will track down the party and tell them the Dragonarmy's plot, as defined above. He'll ask if they wish to help assault a prison transport.

Prison Transport: If captured, the PCs have opportunities to interact with their fellow prisoners along the way. Typically this is expected to take place over the course of three days along the way, but if it would help speed things up you can have all the important NPC prisoners taken at once or before the caravan begins moving. During this time, one of the prisoners might have a secret message from Gilthanas, warning of an impending raid; said prisoner might have also smuggled a small useful item, such as a set of lockpicks or a few spell components to aid the PCs in the escape attempt.

When the assault happens, allow the PCs to escape or coordinate strategy depending on whether they're imprisoned or fighting alongside the guerrillas. Doubtlessly several NPCs will be gravely injured in the fight; allow this time for the prophet/cleric PC to show off their newly-learned healing spells and show the folk that the Gods of Good have returned to Krynn.

The PCs might not be able to free everyone; Gilthanas might advise retreating. They might get only a few freed prisoners, with the rest bound for Pax Tharkas.

City of the Elves: Not much has to be changed here. The PCs should have some free time to explore the city; a glorious, beautiful city in the forest with near-unrivaled magical lore makes for a good resting point and place to sell off loot and perhaps buy some consumable magical items.

Regarding Laurana's kidnapping, it can be more or less excised. The prospect of an evil empire shipping off hundreds, if not thousands, of people to forced labor in Pax Tharkas should be enough incentive for the PCs to act. Even more so if one or more NPCs from Solace are captured. But if you do keep it in, it might be best to keep Toede out of the encounter (don't overplay him too much) and have the infiltrators just be draconians and let the PCs have a chance at thwarting the escape.

Eben Shatterstone and Allied NPCs: Eben is a Dragonarmy double-agent who attempts to win the party's trust by being seen assaulted by 8 baaz draconians. He'll wait until Chapter 4 before overtly revealing his hand, but before then he'll try walking among the PCs and using the opportunity to subtly sabotage their efforts if possible.

There's already quite a few NPC allies in this adventure, so Eben's role is more or less unimportant if it ever gets too many to keep track of. It can be hard portraying a double agent for a long period of time, given the presence of zone of truth and other such spells. In my own campaign, I had him posing as a Knight of Solamnia who reveals the weakness in the fortress' chain mechanism as a way of ensuring initial trust.

It's likely that Tika and Gilthanas are added as PC options in this chapter as well. If your players are like mine and prefer taking care of things themselves, Tika can either hold back or help Gilthanas lead a distraction to help the PCs better infiltrate the fortress. They might meet up again with the refugees at the end of the Chapter should you wish them to have a continued story presence.


Dungeon-Delving: This dungeon is separated into two parts: Sla-Mori the hidden elven passage, and Pax Tharkas proper. Not much has to be said for the former, other than placing the sword Wymslayer in a later location if the PCs seem about to miss it. It's one of the more iconic weapons in the Dragonlance Chronicles.

The Dragons Duo: As for Pax Tharkas, there's a few things to keep in mind. One, the two dragons Flamestrike and Ember are very, very powerful; they both can easily wipe out a whole party at this level. Although it's unlikely that Ember and Verminaard will directly encounter the PCs, Flamestrike might get in a lucky strike or two if she realizes that the children are "being taken from her." Don't encourage a direct fight; at best let her get in a lucky strike (or breath weapon if using 1e/OSR rules), but get stuck as she can't get into the fortress' halls too small for her size.

The Weakest Link: Pax Tharkas' major gate is supported a huge chain network. If broken, it will send an avalanche of rocks to fill the central courtyard, delaying the Dragonarmies' advance in Chapter 3 by about a week. This is a major advantage, and helps send the complex into disarray for the PCs and prisoners to escape. However, it's broken if a small-sized PC climbs up the chain in Sla-Mori and gets spotted by Ember in a peeping hole overlooking the Highlord's chamber. This is rather unintuitive and done by random chance; the PCs might not even know its tactical advantage. I still like the collapsing chain avalanche as a plot point, so there's other ways to incorporate it.

One is to have the PCs overhear soldiers or engineers talking, find some architectural notes, or simply having the right skill set or backstory ("hey Grolk, aren't you a master dwarven artisan?") to spot the weakness. I had Eben Shatterstone reveal this weakness, and had one of Pax Tharkas' towers hold a winch mechanism for the chain which can be sabotaged. Of course it was guarded heavily, adding a challenge of its own.

Prisoner's Dilemma: As Chapter 3 hinges on the prisoners being a huge plot element in ensuring their safe transport south, the adventure has a nice way of reuniting them together. The women and children are kept in the fortress itself, while the men are forced to work in the mines on the other side. The men don't dare rebel while their loved ones are kept hostage; Verminaard and Ember make their debut once the women are confirmed safe (probably by being brought there), but the fact of the matter is that the secret entrance to Sla-Mori is almost right by the women and children's cells. Why not escape that way?

Well first off are practical reasons: the passage is quite narrow, so getting all of them through will take some time. And then the alarm will sound unless the PCs took out every single person in the complex with stealth (highly unlikely). Second is that there's nothing waiting for them in Abanasinia. The only known safe havens are Thorbadin to the south. Suggesting escape south before the PCs assault the fortress (such as by Gilthanas, who says that the southern lands are surprisingly draconian-free) is a good idea. There's also the fact that the Qualinesti elves plan on mass evacuation, so trying to take the prisoners back that way will be a fool's errand and likely arrive too late.

Perhaps Eben, Gilthanas, or an allied NPC looking over the women and children while the PCs contact the men come forth, warning of Dragonarmy reinforcements to the north. Or maybe the chain was broken, damaging Sla-Mori's passages.

Yes I realize that the above is rail-roading a bit, but if it's made to feel rare and not too blatant it can work.


Dragon Battle! Shortly after the male prisoners rebel and reunite with the women and children, Verminaard will come riding in on Ember; after a villainous speech of how he's going to kill everyone (including the children!) only for Flamestrike to arrive.

Now, the idea of two big-ass dragons fighting, and of one normally thought of as Always Chaotic Evil earning redemption through valiant sacrifice is a cool idea.

The problem is that it's resolved as the video game equivalent of a non-interactive cutscene as the PCs lead the refugees away. And her death isn't even onscreen!

Thus, here's my presented solution:

Let the players control Flamestrike as though she were a PC.

Let them all make her choices by committee. Get Pax Tharkas' remaining forces to converge on the escaping prisoners as the two dragons and Dragon Highlord battle in the skies. The PCs can help out on the ground, while Flamestrike distracts Verminaard.

When I did this with 13th Age, I simplified the dragon battle with opposed d20 rolls and a small list of maneuvers that could grant situational bonuses to PC actions. A breath weapon do area of effect damage to ground-bound enemies, knocking Ember into a cliff can trigger an avalanche, etc. This allows for a sense of dramatic climax while letting the players control an honest-to-God dragon!

Flamestrike's death can be onscreen, but should be meaningful in showing off Verminaard's power. Perhaps have him leap onto her with a mace strike, uttering the words "midnight" and fully blinding her as Ember goes in for the kill. This shows off the BBEG's signature attack to the players, who can keep it in mind in the future while giving them one more incentive to take revenge on him.


In Conclusion

Overall, Dragons of Flame requires a lot more work. But it can still be shaped into a badass series of gaming sessions and a good means of allowing real heroism on the PCs' part (whereas in Chapter 1 they mostly dungeon-delved). Next time we'll be covering Chapter 3, Dragons of Hope!
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal DL3: Dragons of Hope​



Skullcap from the 3rd Edition Dragonlance Campaign Setting


This portion of the Autumn Twilight segment of the Dragonlance Chronicles is an overland wilderness trek with a dungeon crawl at the end. The PCs having freed the prisoners of Pax Tharkas must trek south to safer lands, for the realms north are occupied by the Red Dragonarmy and the Qualinesti elves are evacuating their nation. There are several routes and locations for the PCs to visit, not all of which are linear or required. However, the dungeon of Skullcap is a necessity, for it contains a dwarven artifact which will earn the PCs safe passage into the kingdom of Thorbadin.

Refugee Micromanagement

There are about 800 refugees, 10% of which are capable in a fight if the Dragonarmies catch up to the group. Both the AD&D and 3rd Edition versions of the adventure provides rules for attrition rates, to see how well the refugees fare during their travels and how many are alive by the end. There are also Food Units representing supplies, which can be gained via random encounters or via the proper spells and skills depending on Edition.

Additionally, the refugees are divided into 5 broad factions: Abanasinian townsfolk who are not Seekers, the Seeker faithful of Haven and outlying lands, the indigenous Plainsfolk, a small number of converts to the true gods, and a few dozen unaffiliated folk ranging from merchants to sellswords not part of the Dragonarmies. Each faction has their own leader who all get together in a Council to determine major decisions by vote. The PCs are advisors and cannot vote, but can sway leaders in their favor or fail to via faux pas and poor decision-making.

The truth of the matter is that I found both rules to be rather cumbersome, especially the attrition rate rules which would be rolled and determined for every single night. Instead I boiled down major points to PC Background checks (as I ran this campaign in 13th Age) and choice encounters. I suggest doing the same, or picking up the mini-games which will be of most use to your particular play-style. Have PCs who enjoy making it through the skin of their teeth and define themselves with actions and not words? Consider using your favorite mass combat rules. Do the players seem eager to unite the disparate factions together with the inspiring words of Mishakal and the True Gods? Have them participate more in the council voting process.

Major Encounters

Going East:
In both versions of the adventure, a fair amount of major encounters are on the western side of the map, if the PCs lead the refugees down the road to the east. For this reason it might be best to shift some of the encounters about so that the players don't miss a huge portion of the adventure's potential. I recommend keeping an even array; you still want the choice to matter. Perhaps the hill dwarf village is only on the western side, but Fizban's snow fort is on the eastern road. Both encounters provide their own advantages distinct enough to provide different benefits.

Finding Thorbadin: There are two areas which can alert the PCs to Thorbadin's existence and location. The first is the Neidar (Hill Dwarf) village (area 7) where their leader Zirkan can tell them of the nearest safe haven. The other is the Eye of Elar (area 25), a set of high-powered lens which point to a dwarven manuscript revealing the way to the dwarven kingdom's secret passage.

If the PCs end up missing both encounter locations or are likely to, it is recommend to provide other ways of slipping in the information. Perhaps an NPC such as Fizban or one of the faction leaders mentions an old dwarven tale of Skullcap and how it contains a relic which can act as a "key to Thorbadin," or perhaps a captured draconian spy mentions of finding worn trails seemingly leading underground.

Finding Food: Again, this is another micromangaged aspect. Each day without adequate food can really ramp things up (20% cumulative chance, 1d10 refugees die every time). It may sound odd, but the book says that it mostly effects the weak and ill among the populace anyways. There's enough food to feed the refugees for 4 days before they need to forage and hunt. Again this is not something I kept track of among all the other stuff to plan for during the game. Generally I'd recommend boiling things down to a couple appropriate rolls and checks, and provide bonuses and decreased losses if the PCs have competent backgrounds (military officer, druid, etc). Additionally, certain safe havens (Neidar village, Fizban's snow fort, the Hopeful Vale, etc) should be used to provide additional survival supplies as a sort of safe buffer.

Skullcap and the Route to Thorbadin


Scene from Percy Jackson Movies

As final Chapter of the Autumn saga revolves around the kingdom of Thorbadin and a race against time to gain the refugees a safe haven, it is imperative that the PCs learn of Thorbadin. Even more so, the nation infamously closed its doors even to their hill dwarf kinsmen, so unless the PCs have a very good offer such an attempt is a fool's errand. Which is how the Helm of Grallen comes into play. This legendary artifact contains the souls of famed dwarven leaders of times long past, stolen by the human wizard Fistandantilus during the Dwarfgate Wars. This, combined with his treachery against his former hill dwarf allies fighting for entry into the kingdom, provides an in-universe example of the traditional dwarven distrust of arcane spellcasters.

As a dungeon itself, there is not much to say. It is full of undead creatures such as wights and spectres, as well as a climactic battle against an iron fire-breathing hydra construct. Some minor variations include the altar room, which has a +3 vorpal longsword in AD&D, but a +1 ghost touch longsword in 3rd Edition. I prefer the latter option regardless of edition, for it can be a boon for the party fighter when going up against spectres and ghostly undead who cannot be touched otherwise. For those not in the know, a ghost touch weapon property allows said weapon to damage insubstantial enemies such as spectres as though they had material form.

I'll talk about the more eventful NPCs and encounters below:

Blaize: In keeping with each adventure featuring one of the signature breeds of dragon, Blaize is a brass dragon from the Dwarfgate Wars who's been trapped in a time-frozen bubble. He can be a source of good infromation on ancient history, but knows little if anything of why the metallic dragons did not get involved now that the chromatics are working with an invading army. He is willing to accompany the PCs, but abandons them shortly because a dragon tag-along would be rather powerful. In AD&D he accompanies the PCs until the shadow dragon fights, or Verminaard and Ember attack the refugees, or this Chapter ends. In the first two examples the enemies are occupied and flee, or chase Blaize down, effectively taking him out of the fray. In 3rd Edition he does not follow the PCs down the pit in Skullcap, being scared.

In both the book series and game supplements, Blaize's eventual fate is not expanded upon. It's implied that he lives among the refugees in human form, but being time-frozen he would be out of the loop of the metallic's non-aggression pact with the Dragonarmies. I have a more interesting element: Blaize being unaware of this, is quickly detected by the Dragon Empire's scryers on the lookout for interfering good dragons, and is ambushed sometime after he parts ways with the PCs. He is taken as a prisoner in the city of Sanction, where he can be later encountered during the final adventure of the Winter arc.

Whisper: The other dragon the PCs can meet in Skullcap is a shadow dragon, a unique breed who specializes in illusion and darkness-based magic. In the books he assumed that Raistlin was Fistandantilus returned, and in the 3rd Edition adventure he assumes the same for a PC with the Sage archetype or one who fits a magic-user role and will give some limited advice about the tomb to the PCs but otherwise not aid them directly. In AD&D he ambushes the PCs when/if they try to take the treasure in his lair.

In the AD&D game Whisper is rather powerful, but not harder than the other top-tier enemies in the adventure and weaker than Ember. However, in 3rd Edition he is extremely strong and will most likely result in a Total Party Kill barring some optimized builds or exploits.

Pyrohydra Construct: This was the most memorable part of the adventure. In addition to the unique status of an artificial beast who can breathe fire out of several heads, the encounter acts as a sort of "platformer boss" where a multi-layered section of invisible crystal provides both cover and an obstacle mobility. There are two hydras, one in the western section, one in the eastern section at a sort of fork in the road where whatever path the PCs take will encounter a hydra construct.

For my own game, I figured that an invisible maze would be hard to keep track of on the battlemat, so I had a visible yet still exciting set of catwalks and walkways the hydra was under and its breath and bites can destroy in weak sections. It allowed for a fun bit of tactical movement, as the players not only had to deal with the monster itself and taking cover but also adapting to cut-off routes and sudden drops to lower levels.

I also figure that such an encounter can lose a bit of its magic if players fight an identical hydra should they go back up through the other end of the dungeon. They will also have the advantage of awareness, which will take away some of the initial charm of the first battle. I'd personally have only one fire-breathing hydra construct in Skullcap, but it will show up in the route the PCs take.

In Conclusion

A survival-focused wilderness trek with a dungeon of unliving creatures to top things off, Dragons of Hope has a bit of variety going for it in comparison to the previous entries. The major things to watch out for are how keen your group would be on micromanagement and making sure that the PCs become aware of the Helm's necessity.

I realize it's been a while between posts, but hopefully I'll get up the next post to complete Dragonlance's Autumn saga!
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal DL4: Dragons of Desolation​



Dragons of Desolation Cover by Keith Parkinson


The finale to the Autumn Twilight arc takes place entirely within the dwarven kingdom of Thorbadin. Now that the PCs have the Helm of Grallen, they possess a surefire way to get the dwarves to listen to them and possibly provide shelter for the refugees.

Overview
The Heroes of the Lance find the way into Thorbadin, and while there meet the noble Arman Kharas. After fighting their way out of Northgate with Theiwar dwarves in pursuit, they are brought to the Life-Tree of the Hylar where the Council of Thorbadin holds court. After the council debates, the PCs are sent on a quest to recover the Hammer of Kharas in the Valley of Thanes.

Venturing to the Valley, the PCs find a tomb on top of a floating mountain. While there a pranksterish copper dragon disguised as a dwarf acts as a guide. Before they can claim the Hammer, they fight Verminaard's draconic mount, Ember, at the top of the tomb.

Rushing back to Thorbadin, it turns out that the Daegar and Theiwar clans are in league with the Dragonarmies. By letting their forces into the mountain kingdom, a civil war occurs with the purpose of overthrowing the ruling Hylar and gaining possession of the Hammer for themselves. Amid the prisoners is Berem the Green Gemstone Man and Eben Shatterstone, the latter still posing as a loyal comrade if the PCs haven't found him out yet. The PCs are escorted or taken prisoner to the Temple of Stars, where Verminaard awaits. A grand battle occurs dramatically near a pit, which Verminaard is likely to tumble into should he be slain. Regardless of the battle's events, Arman is dealt a grievous injury and dies a hero. With the Hammer, the Hylar leader Hornfel is crowned King and order is restored.

Depending on how long the heroes took, the refugees' fate is either safe from or massacred by the Dragonarmies. Riverwind and Goldmoon have the option to marry if they're PCs in the adventure. The quest ends on a note that although the heroes struck a decisive victory against the Dragonarmy's forces, the battle for Krynn's freedom is far from over.

Things to Change/Look Out For

Maps: The AD&D adventure's strong suit is that it had more detailed maps of Thorbadin and its districts than the 3.5 adventure. Although knowing where the PCs are is not a necessity, given that most encounters are event-based than dungeon-room-based, it can be a nice visual aid to have.

Verminaard's Offer: This is only in the AD&D version, but I advise that you excise this. It's basically an opportunity for the villain to show up, gloat, and make an offer to the party to betray the refugees. While this can work in a book, show, or similar medium, in a tabletop game it's far more likely that the players will try to attack. Given that random nature of die rolls, it's possible that a lucky party might knock the Dragon Highlord off his mount and kill him right then and there.

Northgate: Overall, this section is fine as-is. The PCs meet Arman Kharas, who knows the way better than they do, and provides some good opportunity to do heroic stuff and save prisoners. However, the party is motivated to retreat as an onslaught of theiwar soldiers, dozens at a time, come to assault the party. Regardless of gaming system, running 30+ enemies at once can be a real slog unless you're using a singular "mob" template. I suggest keeping the theiwar army encounters more descriptive, and have a half dozen fight the PCs at a time when they're running.

Dark Dwarves and Derro: In the later RPG supplements, the evil dwarven clans of the theiwar and daergar are their own subrace of dwarves, but not the classic duergar and derro in other settings. In the original AD&D game, the theiwar dwarves are derro.

Personally speaking, I prefer having the dark dwarves physically and mechanically indistinguishable from the other dwarven clans. It plays up the "civil war" factor and makes it seem more subtle in having the Theiwar thane being a secret Dragonarmy agent. Unless the party has a dwarven PC, to an outside observer the feuding of council politics comes off as a less-established clan jockeying for power, rather than an obvious Evil McTraitorface trying to play the part of a villain with good publicity. It also avoids the question of why the council would tolerate and trust a thane from a subrace who are on the whole afflicted with murderous insanity.



Life-Tree of the Hylar

The Council: The Council is currently unsure of the Dragonarmy's true threat, and their isolationist policy will make them reluctant to open up their gates for refugees. After the Council debates, they will send off the PCs to find the legendary Hammer of Kharas as a token of goodwill, given that the Hammer plays a decisive role in determining which clan's thane becomes king of the nation. As a token of ensuring the party's cooperation, the council keeps Eben Shatterstone as a hostage (which is Raelgar, the Theiwar Thane's, idea). If the PCs refuse, they are imprisoned to await trial for trespassing on Theiwar territory and murder if they killed at least one dark dwarf in Northgate.

Holding off the "Lady in the Lake" Monty Python jokes, this is the next best way for the PCs to go on a dungeon crawl. However, the default example's a bit forced. Have the scene play out normally, but instead of making it the reward an open-ended "whosoever recovers the Hammer of Kharas, that person will the dwarves of Thorbardin befriend," attach a more tangible reward. Most likely shelter for the refugees, or agreement to refuse the Dragonarmy's offers (which the Theiwar and Daegar have been advocating for).

Another thing to consider is that in the AD&D version, the PCs have a chance of realizing that Verminaard is telepathically dominating Raelgar's speech during the meeting by noticing his mannerisms are similar to the Highlord. This is not present in the 3.5 version, but either way things don't change much on whether you include it or not. Even if a free agent, Raelgar's condemnation of the PCs still sets him up as a person the PCs shouldn't trust.



Battle Against Ember

Duncan's Tomb: There are precious few monsters and traps in this dungeon, and the main inhabitant is the copper dragon Evenstar. Emphasize the few encounters, traps, and Evenstar's trials in packed general areas instead of planning out the entire dungeon or doing a room-by-room search. Otherwise it will just feel empty and featureless.

The battle against Ember should be climactic, although like previous dragon encounters he is extremely powerful in 3rd Edition. Using the stats of a Juvenile Red Dragon, but increasing the size category to Gargantuan (without the Strength and Constitution increase) makes for a more reasonable encounter. Additionally, I also turned the flagpole into a mostly-depowered dragonlance which breaks after the battle. This helps demonstrate the power of the campaign's namesake and gives the players a taste of things to come.

For 13th Age, I used a modified Large White Dragon's statistics, save that cold damage is converted to fire and I switched around the vulnerabilities as appropriate.

Both versions of the game have smaller encounters afterwards: in AD&D's case kapak scouts, and in 3.5 six of Ember's children. I personally discarded any encounters in this chapter after Ember, for she served well enough as a climactic battle for this sub-section.

Return to Thorbadin: While the PCs were gone, the Theiwar and Daegar clans helped Verminaard and the Dragonarmies gain access to the kingdom, plunging the realm into civil war. This portion of the adventure involves the party fighting their way through soldiers to the Temple of Stars. One of the encounter locations includes a Daegar prison holding Eben Shatterstone and Berem the Green Gemstone Man. I personally did not include Berem in this adventure; on the contrary, one of the PCs bore the mantle of the Green Gemstone Woman for a 13th Age background. This worked better, as otherwise Berem is an easily forgettable NPC. I'd personally not have him in this adventure, and if he must show up in the campaign have it be during Dragons of Spring.

Capture: In the 3.5 version of the adventure, the PCs are supposed to go to the Temple of Stars after encountering Thane Rance of the Daegar, who demands the PCs surrender (albeit the PC bearing the Hammer of Kharas is allowed to keep it). If not, they must fight a total succession of 93 dwarves and draconians altogether. This is a form of rail-roading I despise.

Instead, allow the PCs to find out the Temple of Stars' location from enemy soldiers, Hylar allies, Arman Kharas himself, or likewise. It feels more satisfying for the party to walk in of their own accord and confront Verminaard once and for all.


The Fall of Verminaard
Final Battle: The climactic battle in the Temple of Stars is easily one of the high points of the Autumn Twilight arc. Even so, there are a few things to change to make it better.

First, discard the forced handing of the Hammer of Kharas to Verminaard. Be it via the traitor Eben or telepathic mind control, these both take away agency from the PCs with little change in the endgame (Verminaard fights the PCs).

Second, there's a lot of enemies to keep track of. Verminaard, Arman Kharas, the fireshadow, Eben Shatterstone (potentially), and the dark dwarf and Dragonarmy soldiers. When running this battle, I had Thane Raelgar as an enemy NPC which Arman was busy fighting, and the dwarves and Dragonarmy soldiers as a sort of "mob" template which the PCs could attack as a whole.

In the default adventure, the two dark dwarven clans turn on each other when the Theiwar side with Verminaard, as the Daegar thane Rance had a deal that the Dragonarmies would hand him the Hammer instead (Verminaard seeks to take it for himself). This makes for some nice internal treachery, but another idea is to have valiant Hylar soldiers come rushing in to help, particularly if Arman is not with the party. Either way, the pitched battle makes for a chaotic background.

Thirdly, the standard adventure has Arman die regardless of the course of battle from a poisoned blade. This is meant to be a valiant sacrifice, but instead allow the PCs the option to change this. In my games I had Arman and Raelgar fighting in the background, describing how the heroic dwarf was starting to lose, as he lost his footing and the treacherous Thane raised a poison dagger to plunge into his chest...

At that point, one of my PCs rushed forth to save him in the nick of time, taking Raelgar out with a critical hit. Naturally your own campaign's conflict will be different, but granting the PCs the choice to momentarily disengage to save Arman at the risk of leaving their party open has more narrative and tactical impact.

Finally, there is the matter of the giant pit of death in the center of the Temple. It's a given that one or more PCs may get the idea to push Verminaard into it. Indeed this is how the Dragon Highlord met his end in the novels, but it can be anti-climactic system-wise if a PC uses a single bull rush, spell, or opposed Strength check to knock him in on the first or second round.

One idea is to place Verminaard a fair distance from the pit, or to give him a spell such as levitate to have him come back up. But this is quite obviously meant to mitigate a valid tactic with minimal dramatic impact. Another idea is to have him fall in when shoved or at the brink of death, but have him summon the fireshadow to lift him back up out of the pit with a blazing vengeance! This makes the battle feel like a nice evolution from a "first form"to "final stage" boss, to borrow video game terminology.

In Conclusion

Dragons of Desolation requires a few adjustments, but individually take little effort to change and fix.

I'm happy to have completed the first arc of the Dragonlance saga. I plan to begin writing for the Winter Night arc sometime next week. This will also be the first time the saga's two-party split-up is addressed in detail!
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal, DL6: Dragons of Ice​




Dragons of Ice Cover by Larry Elmore

Note: The original DL5 was a setting overview of the world of Krynn before there was a full campaign setting. Since future up-to-date books adequately cover this ground, I "skipped" that sourcebook.

Dragons of Ice is the first appropriately-named chapter in the Winter arc, and also marks the splitting of the party as well as the inclusion of a DMPC for an appreciable segment of the campaign.

Overview

The PCs makes their way to the City of Tarsis, once a thriving port now a land-locked shanty due to the ravages of the Cataclysm. Looking for safe passages for the Abanasinian refugees, it becomes clear that Tarsis' port is of no use. Thus the must stay in Thorbadin and only an end to the wars will things return to normalcy. The party meets up with a detachment of the Knights of Solamnia seeking to research of ways to defeat the Dragonarmies. During this time the PCs learn of the Dragon Orbs in the hidden Library of Khrystann, and Tarsis falls under siege by the Blue Dragonarmies. Escaping with Derek Crownguard and the Solamnic Knights, the PCs flee the city and get word to head south to Icewall Glacier from an old couple advising them to follow "the path of the white bear."

While traveling south to Icewall Glacier, the PCs find and save a polar bear being tortured by minotaurs and camp out in a shipwreck during a storm. They are later found by a tribe of Ice Folk, who offers them hospitality and explain their recent troubles with thanoi (walrus-men) and minotaurs. If the PCs accompany them back to their village, Derek Crownguard shows the PCs a map of Ansalon. He explains that the free peoples of Krynn are gathering at the isle of Sancrist to discuss an organized resistance against the Dragon Empire. The White Dragonarmy attacks the Camp, and the PCs take part in mass combat. After the battle the Ice Folk seek vengeance at Icewall Castle, the headquarters of the White Dragonarmy.

After entering, the PCs have opportunities to discover a Dragonlance-bearing knight (now dead) encased in ice; fight the White Dragon Highlord Feal-Thas and recover his personal journals; and possibly discover the Dragon Orb guarded by his draconic mount Sleet in the lower reaches. Having dealt a great blow to the Dragonarmies, the PCs head to the nearby Ice Mountain Bay with grateful Ice Folk to find and unearth a sea-worthy vessel. Their trials over in southern Ansalon for the time being, the PCs take off for Sancrist only to encounter stormy conditions and possibly a dragon attack which leaves them shipwrecked.

Things to Change/Look Out For




Siege of Tarsis


Dragon Attack from Pathfinder: Burnt Offerings



Originally, the PCs' main headquarters in Tarsis is the Red Dragon Inn. Splitting up to investigate, the Winter team headed for the Library while the Spring team stayed behind. When the Blue Dragonarmy invades, the Spring team escapes thanks to the timely arrival of Alhana Starbreeze shortly after an aerial assault levels the Inn. In both teams' cases, the adventure encourages the PCs to flee the city.

This will be covered in Spring, but given that Alhana Starbreeze is literally a character they never met before and the PCs might be heroic types who don't want to abandon innocents, I propose a few changes.

First, have both Alhana Starbreeze and Derek Crownguard meet the Autumn PCs (along with any new PCs) before the adventure proper, using the Inn as a sort of informal "war room." That way nobody will be taken aback at an elf appearing out of nowhere demanding the PCs flee without their comrades.

Secondly, provide for a way for the Winter and Spring teams to let each other know that the other side is safe, or prepared drills beforehand in case of an invasion (which the adventure points to as likely given the mayor's appeasement to the Dragonarmies). In my campaign I had Khrystann's local chronicler, a gnome journalist of my own creation by the name of Widge Pathwarder deliver a message to the Spring team. Depending on the system you're using, and if using a smaller 4 person party, it's likely that the PCs have access to scrying magic at this point, too.

Thirdly, place an emphasis on evacuating civilians. Tarsis is unready for a full-on siege, but the PCs are likely to want to help in whatever way they can. The base adventure includes an encounter where the party can rescue an old couple from opportunistic looters, but otherwise most of the events do not provide opportunities for the PCs to feel like Big Damn Heroes. In my own campaign I included an encounter where the PCs had to break apart a Dragonarmy barrier in the middle of the street to free captured citizens. They also had the opportunity to help guide civilians into nearby sewer entrances while blue dragons rained lightning from the skies. I modified the kapak assassin encounter to occur in the tunnels with civilians below so that the PCs needed to play things smart (kapaks release a cloud of poison gas upon death).

Splitting the Party

Back in the Character Creation post I discussed this upcoming eventuality, but as of now there are some more things to add.

The original Chronicles party was a whopping 8 person band, and the addition of DMPCs over the adventures swells this number even further. Thus a party split in these circumstances is manageable. However, if your gaming group is a more reasonable 3 to 5 group, making new PCs is likely in order. For my own campaign the new PCs more or less comprised the Spring team, fellow folk who suffered losses at the Dragonarmy's hands. The Winter team was the original Autumn PCs. Granted, you may prefer a mixture of old and new PCs in each team, but for maximum role-play potential consider assigning PCs to one of two teams based on their backstories and character concepts:

Winter Team:

Solamnic Knight: This chivalrous order plays a huge part in the later adventures of this arc, and can make for some nice contrast with Derek Crownguard.

Kagonesti/Qualinesti Elf: The Qualinesti made a colony on the Isle of Sancrist, as did the Silvanesti. The two groups are on poor terms with the native Kagonesti.

Politician/Commander Types: From the Battle of the High Clerist Tower to the Whitestone Council, Dragons of Winter is full of opportunities for leaders of men to decide the fate of Krynn.

Dragonarmy Deserters/Turncoats: The final chapter in Winter involves infiltrating the heart of the Dragon Empire in its largest city. Naturally heroes with a connection to this fell bastion of evil will be invaluable.

Craftsmen/Artisans/Tinkers: Although the base adventure assumes that Theros Ironfeld will craft the Dragonlances once their secret is discovered in Foghaven Vale, this role can just as easily be filled by a PC, especially if they lost an arm at some point in the adventure. The proximity of Mount Nevermind in Sancrist can be a good place for a gnomish tinker to meet up with colleagues.

Spring Team:

Silvanesti Elf: The first chapter involves venturing into the nightmare landscape of Silvanesti with its princess to restore it to its former glory. Enough said.

Clerics and Religious Types: Ideal for both, but this adventure particularly explores the legacy of the Cataclysm in Dragons of Faith where the PCs explore the undersea ruins of Istar. In Dragons of Truth the PCs venture to the Glitterpalace where they may speak with the Gods of Light

Kender/Guerrilla Types: Virtually all of eastern Ansalon lies under the Dragon Empire's dominion, the kender of the Goodlund Peninsula and the Nightmare Lands of Silvanesti the only places more or less unclaimed but still suffering. Dragons of Shadow (3.5) or Faith (AD&D) extensively detail these environs, and may give the PCs opportunity to ally with the Silver Fox and make inroads against the Dragonarmies on their home turf.

Derek Crownguard


Derek Crownguard fanart by Sticko

The follies and potential troubles of DMPCs have been discussed in many forums. But the other major thing to address is Derek Crownguard's personality. Although I haven't read this far into the novels, his personality is rather well-known for being perpetually hostile and unlikable. In the books he was constantly at odds with Sturm Brightblade and mostly on the quest for hopes of personal promotion by bringing the Dragon Orbs to the Whitestone Council. He's representative of an old and fallen knightly order more concerned with the letter than the spirit of the code; Sturm is the more moderate contrast who will eventually bring the Knights back to glory.

Naturally, one might ask why the PCs should bother at all with him. And that is indeed a good question. The simplest explanation is to dispense with him, having any existing knightly PCs assigned to Tarsis to research the Dragon Orbs. But in my own 13th Age campaign, I not only kept him, but altered his personality a bit. In combat he was more of a supplementary role, less a full NPC and more a "stunt tactic" or element the PCs can use to trigger combined assaults with and distractions. Personality-wise, I played him more as a slightly cantankerous yet well-meaning knight. the weight of the war and its stakes darkening his mood at times. He was still obsessed with the Dragon Orbs, viewing them as an ultimate trump card. The examples of the PC Paladin (who was also the role of Prophet) encouraged him to righteousness at the Battle of the High Clerist Tower, effectively becoming the leader of the Solamnic Knights during the war.

For those reasons, my own group did not mind him as much, but I can't say for sure if this will work for your own.


Incentive to Go South



Feal-Thas, White Dragon Highlord by JL Meyer

Both versions of Dragons of Ice use the old "wise elder with vague knowledge" trope to guide the PCs to Icewall Glacier. This, combined with Crownguard's revelation of Sancrist later at the Ice Folk Camp, makes the adventure feel extremely railroady due to the fact that the PCs are finding out the next location right after the other instead of a gradual organic planning. Even more so, the PCs might decide that heading to Sancrist is more important than the assault at Icewall Castle, which can be problematic.

For my own campaign, I baked the plot hook right into the adventure's first chapter: the texts within the Library of Khrystann not only revealed the history of the Dragon Orbs, but the revelation that long ago the Wizards of High Sorcery "went far south, to a land of snow and ice to hide them from the world due to their power." And contacts within the Knights of Solamnia revealed that the Dragonarmies were conducting an excavation in the Glacier itself, apparently searching for something.

I also made it so that Icewall Castle was actually close to the ocean, near the western section of the Glacier. The Castle had a harbor with sea-worthy boats, giving the PCs even more reason to go there for a proper boat to take to Sancrist.

In Conclusion


Dragons of Ice is an overall fair beginning to the Winter arc. It starts off with a bang as the city's besieged, includes a battle against the White Dragonarmy forces on the tundra, and climaxes with the discovery of a real Dragonlance to use against the dragon Sleet. Its weakest areas involve plot hooks and incentives, but hopefully this advice should shape this up into an even greater adventure!
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal, DL7: Dragons of Light​



Cover Art by Larry Elmore

The second in the Winter Night arc, Dragons of Light is perhaps one of the most iconic moments in the series, for the PCs will recover the ancient secret of the creation of the Dragonlances.

Overview

While heading for the Whitestone Council by boat, the PCs find themselves shipwrecked on the shores of Southern Ergoth. While exploring the environs, the group reunites with the Qualinesti elves who fled their forest nation back in the Autumn Twilight arc. The party also encounters two other groups of elves, the Silvanesti refugees who still bear old grudges against the Qualinesti, and the native Kagonesti who are being exploited by both groups.

Theros Ironfeld, the blacksmith from Solace, is more or less a guest of the Qualinesti and has a grafted silver arm artifact which he found in a tomb. He'd much rather leave the area on account that he doesn't want to have his talents be used for kin-slaying and grudges. There is also the silver dragon D'argent, in disguise as one of several randomly determined NPCs, who seeks to lead the party to Foghaven Vale where the secrets of the Dragonlance's creation can be found via a pool of heated dragonmetal. More importantly, said secret is at risk of being discovered first by the Dragonarmies, who will surely either taint or re-appropriate them to their own dark designs.

One way or another, the PCs trek to Foghaven Vale, where a giant stone sculpture in the shape of a dragon has a detachment of ogre soldiers working for the Dragonarmies as well as many traps and guardians. During their exploration the party will come across Fizban again, who chastises a disguised D'argent for oathbreaking, and the two battle. The outcome varies, although it will most likely end up with the silver dragon leaving or disappearing.

Things to Change/Look Out For




Shipwreck

This is a rather short entry, the canon way of ensuring that the PCs end up at Southern Ergoth is via an attack by a white dragon, either Sleet from the previous chapter or Odenkeer's Squall. Personally I took a page out of Jester David's Dragonlance campaign, where he dropped instances of the King of the Deep (from the Spring adventure Dragons of Faith) manipulating sea life to harry Solamnic warships. In my own game I had a tentacled monstrosity attack the ship acting at the behest of the King of the Deep, and thus caused heavy damage forcing it either to dock or crash into Southern Ergoth.

Elves at the Mercy of Elves

The sectarianism of the elven refugees and the enslavement of the Kagonesti is a plot point touched upon to show that people in Krynn are hardly united. However, it is minor at best in the adventure itself, where the main concern is for the party to get to Foghaven Vale. There's also the fact that the parallels of the lighter-skinned Qualinesti and Silvanesti treating the indigenous dark-skinned Kagonesti as slaves can very easily sway many gaming groups to make the latter's liberation a primary concern. The elf-on-elf prejudice isn't something the module at large deals with or explores fully. Instead the Qualinesti and Silvanesti elves become united once at the Whitestone Council, and the Kagonesti endure further poor treatment in the future.

Personally, I touched upon this only briefly in my own campaign, although instead I used it as a plot device to get the PCs to not trust the heads of the Houses. The Qualinesti were vaguely aware of the Silver Arm's power and planned to use Tika (who gained the Silver Arm instead of Theros) as a bargaining chip at the Whitestone Council. Laurana, who the PCs were on good terms with, helped her and the party escape house arrest. Afterwards Tika helped lead the party to find Silvara (one of D'argent's identities) who's been helping the resistance against the Dragonarmies.


Another idea is to have one or more high-ranking elves get kidnapped by Thunderbane's ogres as a ploy to turn the elven communities against each other by pointing fingers as blame. If the PCs find the truth they can unite the elves against a common foe and give them additional incentive to journey to Foghaven Vale. One might also wish to tone down, change, or remove the poor treatment of Kagonesti as well depending on your group.

D'argent & Fizban



In the book series, the silver dragon D'argent took the guise of a Kagonesti elven woman named Silvara in order to walk unhindered in Ansalon. This is so that she can secretly aid heroes against the Dragonarmies without tipping off the latter of possible intervention by the good dragons. To prevent folks who read the books from being clued in, Dragons of Light presented 7 other alternate identities of existing NPCs in the adventure. Although she tries her best to stay in character, D'argent seeks to get the party to go to Foghaven Vale, acts in a Lawful Good fashion, and will attempt to hide when draconians and dragons are near.

Some of the choices present more challenges than others. The animal NPCs Dargo (Silvara's dog) and the sabre-tooth kitten Star (Theodenes' pet) can't communicate verbally. Vanderjack is a mercenary leader known for his amorality, and it may be implausible that she managed to keep up the charade among Vanderjack's cronies. Having her as the Qualinesti noble Porthios may seem odd for one in such a position to accompany the party on his own across trackless wilderness instead of staying behind with his people during impending war (unless you use the kidnapped elf subplot above). The AD&D version posits that D'argent may be disguised as a Player Character, which will require fore-planning with a player in advance and might "ruin" the surprise as to her true identity.

Personally, I kept her as Silvara, on account that only one player read the books, and in 13th Age established her as an Icon representing a distant resistance fighter several of the PCs already knew tangentially in their travels. But for non-13th Age gamers, having her as Silvara or the gnome Theodenes is the easiest choice preparation and plot-wise.

The fight between Fizban and D'argent takes some careful handling. First off, the players are very likely to feel confused, and the sudden transformation of D'argent into a silver dragon may lose some of its dramatic impact when the gaming group's still trying to figure out what's going on. Additionally, this very well has the chance of causing the party to view Fizban as an enemy in the future, and may very well take his silence on the matter of the Oath (where the good-aligned dragons refuse to intervene against the Dragonarmies since their eggs are being held hostage) as evidence that the wacky old wizard is not all he appears to be and is hiding something sinister.

Overall, the implied power levels of D'argent and Fizban are far above the PCs at this level, and the best the party can do is interrupt the latter's concentration when spellcasting if they choose to take sides. Personally I recommend changing things to treat Fizban as merely a high-level wizard whose focus is on D'argent (and not someone who outright nullifies any damage or ill effects). Allow the party the chance to drive off Fizban, perhaps via making him miscast a spell at a crucial moment which teleports him away. The party is unlikely to buy Fizban's selective senility if D'argent flees, and will likely press the issue until they get answers or drive off the wizard. I personally recommend having him speak of the Oath as something of great weight in this case, and that he risks the lives of innocents upon speaking of it further. This worked back in my high school days when I ran the adventure for 3.5, although more specifics of the campaign escape me at the moment.

Finally, I recommend having D'argent shapechange into her true form at the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower out of desperation, particularly if it seems that the Dragonarmies are going to win. Although this will be covered in more detail in my Dragons of War blog post, it provides a better plot incentive for her to encourage the party to venture to the city of Sanction where the good dragon eggs are being held. If the Dragonarmies believe that the good dragons violated the Oath, the dragons' children will be in danger.

The Stone Dragon & Vanderjack's Band


Beastclaw Raiders by Wonchun Choi

One of the possible encounters in this adventure is with the mercenary leader Vanderjack, who is seeking out the treasure of Foghaven Vale. Whether a disguise of D'argent or not, the members of his band are disguised sivaks who seek to betray him. This will cause him to ask the party for help and offer to join them, worried that his one-allies are seeking to beat him to the Vale's treasure first.

This is plausible, but instead I handled things differently, and in keeping with Dragonlance's love of large battles.

For my own game the PCs teamed up with his mercenary band and assaulted the Vale as more or less a sort of event-based series of encounters. Vanderjack's main force pushed on against the ogres while the PCs took out archers and siege weaponry among the Vale's higher points. Working together the groups took out the main force, but just as they got closer to the Stone Dragon a force of Blue Dragonarmy elite undead (created by Lord Soth) descended to wreak havoc. This forced the main army into the Stone Dragon's entrance, where a triggered cave-in separated them from the undead at the consequence of many lives lost (so as to not give the party a mass of NPCs for more conventional encounters). In your own campaign you might have the Dragonarmies receive reinforcements, forcing the main army to hang back while the PCs hurriedly rush to prevent the dragonmetal's destruction.

Dragonarmy Presence (or Lack Thereof) in the Stone Dragon: This is another major point of difference between the two editions. In AD&D, the giant Thunderbane and his ogres more or less acted as the major bad guys in the Vale, with the Stone Dragon more or less occupied by Fizban and a host of traps and guardians. In the 3.5 version, there were sivak draconians and Flight Marshal Odenkeer seeking to poison the dragonmetal. The climactic encounters of the session involved a fight against the Marshal in the lower reaches and later a fight against his draconic mount Squall in the Epilogue of the adventure.

I incorporated the threat of Odenkeer and his minions in my own 13th Age game, but gave him several magical lightning javelins as a unique magic weapon to use during the fight (he had higher ground) and as treasure. Personally speaking I think that the addition of these enemies is a good idea in that it adds a sense of urgency and raises the stakes for the PCs to safeguard the Stone Dragon. The addition of Squall's flight of dragons may be a bit much of one fight right after another, but it can have value in showing off the Dragonlances' powers. But this can just as easily be accomplished during the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower later on, and it's likely that the PCs already have a Dragonlance from the previous Winter adventure. As a result, this this may not be necessary.

In Conclusion

Dragons of Light is mostly a wilderness and dungeon crawl with a great discovery at the end. The major things to look out for are D'argent's form and her battle with Fizban. Overall it has a lot of working parts in the form of NPCs, but certain encounters may be de-emphasized or played up based on what you as Dungeon Master want the players to focus on.

Join us next time as we cover Dragons of War and the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, the most famous mass conflict in the entire saga!
 

Libertad

Hero

Dragons of Renewal DL8: Dragons of War​



Artwork from Legacy: War of Dragons MMORPG

Overview

This adventure revolves around the iconic Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, while also briefly covering the heroes journey from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas. Once they reach their destination they can make several pre-battle preparations, from exploring the tower locales (much of it remains unexplored due to the Knights regarding it as sacred) for defenses to shore up. The mass battle itself takes place in waves over a period of several days, and unlike the books it is very possible for the PCs to lose the Tower (and thus by extension Palanthas).

Things to Change/Look Out For



The Whitestone Council

Aside from the grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia, there is surprisingly little interaction with the Whitestone forces and other folks before the battle. The default adventure has the recovered Dragon Orb presented to the Council, causing the factions to bicker among each other. In the book series this bickering is broken with the introduction of the Dragonlance, thrown by Theros Ironfeld throwing the legendary weapon into the Whitestone natural formation and splitting it in half.

Granted, the default scenes does not have much opportunity for the PCs to talk and interact with the various factions. It also assumes that the PCs reveal the existence of the Dragon Orb to the assembly, which my group wisely decided not to do.

I changed this around by having the PCs meet up with a war council while planning for the sailing to Palanthas. In addition to the base factions I had three major factions of Solamnians representing various groups: the Knights, unaffiliated lords, and self-governing peasant communes fed up with the former two. I also included White and Red Robes of High Sorcery, who were worried about the balance of Evil tipping too far. Although the forces were united, they all were looking beyond war's end and wanted various guarantees in exchange for their aid: Solamnic peasants wanted independence for their respective regions, Red and White Robes wanted more liberty and freeing of imprisoned mages in various realms, the Silvanesti wanted trade and supplies to help rebuild their realm, and so on and so forth.

Feel free to play this up as much or as little as befits your group. Barring complete catastrophe the Council should not dissolve, but this can be an opportunity for certain PCs to push for better deals for their favored nations and people. Due to previous adventures, light of their past accomplishments should carry weight while at the same time balanced against practicality and the needs of the other member nations.

The Journey to the Tower





Approaching the Tower of Nightlund (Palanthas) by Geoffryn of deviantart

The first chapter covers various regions and encounters the PCs can have along the way from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas, along with details of the city itself. Personally speaking most of the travel is filler and can be discarded, but the city of Palanthas bears special mention. Firstly, the local government is unconvinced the Dragonarmies will invade due to a signed non-aggression treaty and don't seek to contribute to the Tower's defenses. The garrison of Knights in the tower are on their own due to this. Additionally, there is mention made of the PCs visiting Mount Nevermind to have the gnomes examine their artifacts, although nothing really comes of this plot-wise.

Alterations to the adventure can be made as thus: give the PCs the opportunity to prove to the otherwise neutral Palanthian government of the Dragonarmy's treachery. Or use trickery themselves to do so (Jester-David's group used illusionary dragons to fly over the city, although their plan failed). Additionally, a side trip to Mount Nevermind might grant additional gnomish reinforcements in the Battle for the High Clerist's Tower, if only for "research purposes" on seeing any Dragonlances or Dragon Orbs in action.


The High Clerist's Tower, Exploration


Capital by Chris Becker Art of deviantart

The High Clerist Tower portion of the adventure is more or less a dungeon crawl. In both versions of the module I found that the vast majority of rooms were empty, so I had the battle coincide with the PCs exploring the Tower by finding/activating its various defenses. I'd switch between encounters with the PCs and back to the mass battle forces. I felt that this helped simulate the speed and chaos of war.

If using this encounter-based crunch: I'd focus on the following rooms (it can be assumed that the PCs make their way between them off-screen): 32 Dragon Trap (for activating the Orb), 45 Battleground, 62 Eternal Halls (populated with monsters from other rooms, have treasury room as reward), 77 Khas Room (for possible ghostly ally). If you feel that you need more encounters, perhaps add a featureless hallway or tower or two with wraiths, invading Dragonarmy soldiers, traps, and other obstacles.

Another thing of note is that the Tower has a second Dragon Orb inside it. The game mechanic reasons is in case the PCs failed to find the Orb at Icewall Castle. Personally speaking I got rid of this second one in my own game. The Dragon Orbs are meant to be rare artifacts scattered to the four winds, and its location here is far too convenient. Beyond this, if you use the blog notes I wrote for the Dragons of Ice adventure then your own PCs should not miss that quest's Dragon Orb.

Siege Events and Complications

The default adventure has a series of events which happen around the tower before and during the siege. There are not too many special considerations to make other than one. A few days before the final assault, a high-ranking Dragonarmy soldier Vindar of Khurman will approach the tower, calling the name of a knight to engage him in single combat. Said knight is but a young man fresh out of squiredom and thus not a match for Vindar. A PC can take his place, although the circumstances of the situation mean that the honorable option is a one-on-one fight. Vindar is a classed Fighter with a magical sword capable of restoring hit points dealt as damage in a vampiric fashion.

Most D&D games and retroclones do not balance encounters for 1 PC. For that reason the fight can wildly vary in difficulty, and if gone on for too long the other players may get bored sitting around. The adventure suggests that Vindar has yet to lose a fight and as thus will underestimate the PC's capabilities. Generally speaking you should have Vindar be reworked so that he is overall weaker than an individual PC, the kind they would reliably take on their own in a larger battle versus multiple forces.

Another thing to consider is that unless the battle takes place in a single day, the PCs might wish to head out into the enemy encampment via stealth and assassinate Dragonarmy leaders. The adventure does not take this into consideration, assuming that the PCs will stand charge on the wall. But with spells like invisibility sphere, teleport, summons, and other high-level sorcery, getting past mundane soldiers should be trivial.

One option would be to allow this: the army isn't going to retreat given how the chain of command works, but killing off the most competent leaders is definitely worth a significant bonus for the mass combat system battles. Additionally, the Dragonarmy encampments should be home to undead, spellcasting bozak draconians and an aurak or two, along with blue dragons who in Pathfinder have insanely high Perception checks.

Silvara & the Temptation of the Dragon Orb


If you ran through DL9: Dragons of Dreams, then it's likely that the players got a strong impression of the Dragon Orb's power and what can happen if used in desperation. Its primary use in the adventure is to be placed in a special room in the High Clerist's Tower. Once activated, it will mentally compel the blue dragons to fly inside cramped corridors in the tower which could immobilize them via the use of iron portcullis as well as a herring bone pattern (where it's easy to get in but hard to get out). Aside from this, there are no real negative consequences for using the Dragon Orb in this adventure.

Personally, I made a few changes in my own game. One, I altered the traps to contain a series of adamantine guillotines. This changed little aside from aesthetic value, in that I did not make my PCs attack and kill trapped dragons. Secondly, I had it so that the Dragon Orb also affected Silvara. Although she was strong-willled enough to not fly into the trap, it was enough to compel her to take draconic form during the battle.

As a result of this, evidence of a silver dragon fighting alongside the Solamnic army was clear as day. The Dragon Empire's many messengers and Black Robe mages passed word back to Neraka of this development. After the battle was won, Silvara was still extremely worried, for a cleric of Takhisis came to deliver a message from Emperor Ariakas himself.

Content Warning: Child Death

Speaking through the priest directly via powerful magic, Ariakas demanded the surrender of the silver dragon along with the giving up of the Tower. The sounds of eggs being squashed in the background could be heard, and Ariakas continued that "more would die for every day that passes without capitulation."


This tied well into the following adventure, DL8: Dragons of Deceit. In that one, Silvara explains to the party that she must take them to Sanction to uncover the Dragonarmies' greatest secret. She is tight-lipped about the nature of the mission, and the use of good dragon eggs to make draconians is revealed only later and directly. The default hook is rather vague, but the plot circumstances of my game served the two-fold purpose of granting an obvious hook as well as making the party detest Ariakas even more. It also kept in line with the inherently dangerous nature of the Dragon Orbs.

Alternatively in your games, Silvara may still take her true form. Perhaps the tide of battle is threatening to turn, and acting rashly she turns into a dragon to level the playing field.

Mass Combat


To War by Pandarice of Deviantart

Dragonlance is no stranger to wargaming, and the original AD&D adventure came complete with a self-contained Battlesystem ruleset. The 3.5 adventure contains no such rules, instead noting that there are many mass battle rulesets on the market today and to use your favorite. Both adventures gave a breakdown of troops and units on both sides of the conflict for best simulating this.

I have no experience with Battlesystem or warming in general, so I used a homebrew creation. An important thing to consider is that whatever set of rules you use to not spring it on the players suddenly. Instead post or link them the necessary material so they can familiarize themselves with the rules ahead of time. Not all players can quickly adapt and digest new rules on the spot.

As for my homebrew, I had it as a simple 1d20 resolution system. Each army had "hits" representing how many attacks they can weather before dispersing or being slaughtered. When one unit came into conflict with another, both sides would roll 1d20. A unit with a superior advantage (higher ground, superior defensive holdings, etc) added +4 to their roll. The loser would take one "hit" as a result.

Regardless of the rules system you use, here are some general tactics:


  • The PCs' forces have an ultimately defensive position. Their mission is to prevent the Blue Dragonarmy from taking hold of the High Clerist Tower and thus the route to Palanthas.
  • Generally speaking the Blue Dragonarmy will send in expendable units to test the Tower's defenses. Kobold skirmishers are perfect for this.
  • In-game events the party does (gain the aid of Yarus' ghosts, the use of the Dragon Orb to utilize the dragon deathtrap, etc) should affect certain powerful units in the field. Be it removing them from play or adding them as new forces.
  • Sample ally forces for PCs should include Knights of the Crown (higher defense/health), Knights of the Sword (offense), Knights of the Rose (grants boons/bonuses to allies due to leadership qualities), Peasant Militia (weak units, high numbers), White/Red Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), Gnomish Experimental Siege Weapons (very powerful but random effects), Ghostly Allies (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
  • Sample Dragonarmy forces should include Kobold Skirmishers (weak units, high numbers) Baaz Infantry (offense), Kapak Archers (ranged capabilities), Black Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), undead soldiers (high defense/health), Blue Dragons (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
Closing Thoughts

The Battle of the High Clerist Tower, much like in the book series, is a pivotal moment in the Dragonlance Chronicles. The events should feel fast-paced, the stakes high, and the battles seemingly constant and never-ending (from a thematic standpoint, not actual endless encounters). The journey to the tower along with dungeon-crawling should be de-emphasized in favor of a few core events.

Next time we'll wrap up the Winter saga with Dragons of Deceit, where the party infiltrates the City of Sanction and frees the metallic dragon eggs from the forces of evil!
 

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