Dragonlance How would you 'fix' DL1: Dragons of Despair for a 5E revisit? [spoilers!]

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I'm going to be running DL1: Dragons of Despair in 5E in January (and livestreaming it!) -- I ran it many years ago in 1E, and this will be my first time revsiting it. Of course, I've read the novels more than once, too.

This isn't about DL mechanics or changes to races or anything. Just the adventure itself. We won't be using pre-gens.

It has a reputation as being a bit of a railroad (though I find the first half actually lacks direction, and the second half is a decent dungeon crawl), and I feel there are some other areas it could be improved. I may be misremembering bits.
  • I'd ditch the wicker dragon 'fake out' - I feel it undermines the actual real dragon reveal later
  • I feel like the mission to Xak Tsaroth needs better signposting. There's a lot of wandering around wondering where to go next in the first third of the adventure. While there's only one real option - Xak Tsaroth - it's not made super clear until the Forestmaster simply outs and tells them heroes what to do halfway through the adventure. And in the novels at least its partly pushed by Riverwind's memories.
Thinking back to the novels it kinda went like this IIRC:
  • Meeting in Solace, staff revealed
  • Run away! Where to?
  • Lake, draconians on road, mountain peak
  • Darken Woods, get given mission by a unicorn
  • Hitch ride across plains
  • Swamp fake dragon
  • Xak Tsaroth
Obviously the adventure doesn't have to go like that. I think I'd want to streamline all that middle section -- I'd rather see:
  • Solace (and some clear direction)
  • Journey to Xak Tsaroth with expositional encounters (ie meeting draconians for the first time)
  • Xak Tsaroth
So what would you do to improve that first adventure?

DL1-561827570.jpg
 
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Wolfram stout

Adventurer
Supporter
Is Fizban at the Inn in the Adventure? If so, maybe he could give some better hints/exposition to set the party on the right path from the beginning?

Or if they have the roadway encounter with the Draconians, they could mention the "fallen city" or something when demanding the staff?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I really hate railroads and illusionism, and I’m not a fan of linear adventures, so my fix would be to take the elements presented and turn it into a sandbox for the players to explore. Figure out a way to dangle all the right hooks in front of the PCs, but also be prepared for them to go left when the module needs them to go right.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
I really hate railroads and illusionism, and I’m not a fan of linear adventures, so my fix would be to take the elements presented and turn it into a sandbox for the players to explore. Figure out a way to dangle all the right hooks in front of the PCs, but also be prepared for them to go left when the module needs them to go right.
I pretty much think it is that. As I said there’s very little guidance to the players to head to Xak Tsaroth, and a lot of wandering around figuring out what to do or where to go. It almost needs the DM to literally step in and tell them, the module is so light on directions.
 

In the module, Goldmoon starts as a NPC and can become a PC once she meets the rest of the party in the inn. Riverwind is supposed to remain a NPC the entire module, do you plan to use them that way or will those roles be replaced by newly created PCs?
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
In the module, Goldmoon starts as a NPC and can become a PC once she meets the rest of the party in the inn. Riverwind is supposed to remain a NPC the entire module, do you plan to use them that way or will those roles be replaced by newly created PCs?
Nope. 4 players, all new PCs.
 

Nope. 4 players, all new PCs.
How did you plan to handle the staff? There's a few points in the module where the party is given direction to take it to Xak Tsaroth, but some of them feel incredibly.. odd. The Seekers in Haven desiring to have the party return the staff if they won't hand it over makes sense since the Dragonarmies have threatened to destroy Haven if they don't get the staff back. This random bit from the inn though?

The Old Storyteller: I foresee great and terrible destiny in your eyes. There is a Blue Staff which you must return to Xak Tsaroth. There, in but a few days hence, you shall face
your greatest peril in contest for the greatest gift given to man.

I feel like that's just going to make my players hyperfocus on Fizban instead of just taking the hint and running with it. I'll probably omit that part and have him say something less specific.

I'm in a very similar situation, running DL1 in January for a group of 5E players. 6 players, no cleric so I'm leaning towards having Goldmoon and Riverwind be NPCs in the story at least up until the conclusion of DL4 when they can just remain with the refugees while the group moves on. I know that's not what you're trying to solve though, so the reason I mentioned them as NPCs for DL1 is if the party doesn't pick up on any hints to head to Xak Tsaroth, Riverwind can have a flashback to when he received the staff and that could be a way to help direct the party there.
 

Burnside

Space Jam Confirmed
Supporter
Is one of your characters a cleric or some other character with a logical connection to the lost gods? If so, that character could receive omens, portents, visions, or dreams pointing them to Xak Tsaroth - putting them more into the Goldmoon role narratively instead of experiencing that second hand through an NPC.
 

Kai Lord

Hero
Maybe instead of seeking to take the Staff to Haven as Rivermind and Goldmoon initially wanted to do your group will either decide to take the Staff back to the Que-Shu (if there are any Plainspeople in the group) or be commissioned to escort an NPC Plainsperson who carries the Staff back to their tribe (which conveniently is right on the way to Xak Tsaroth and pretty close to it.) Then when they come across the remains of the Que-Shu tribe they see Draconian tracks and maybe even some human tracks heading off toward the swamp suggesting that there are Que-Shu prisoners that may need to be rescued.

You could even change the carnage to be the result of Onyx and her draconians instead of the Red Dragonarmy as a further link to Xak Tsaroth and if you wanted a cool Easter Egg link to the novel describe a gory melted Plainsman similar to how Riverwind ended up after Onyx's first strike.
 
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Stormonu

Legend
I like @Kai Lord 's suggestion, though I would have that when they get to Que-Shu the tribe performs a ceremony on the staff (to determine what's up with it/why everyone wants it so bad/attune to it), and it teleports the PCs directly to the above-ground plaza at Xak Tsaroth, just outside the temple to Mishakel. From there it sort of acts like a dowsing stick, pointing the PCs towards recovering the disks in the deep ruins. (That lets you bypass the wicker dragon, though I think the wicker dragon is a cool encounter - sans Tasslehoff's antics).
 

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