Dragonlance [Let's Read] Dragonlance Companion


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Libertad

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Escape From Senag Island

Our last adventure in the Dragonlance Companion, Escape from Senag Island is a combat-heavy module designed for 4-5 PCs of 5th level. Like Trials of the Tower Initiate, the PCs will level up multiple times, once each time after completing one of three major tasks, and again once the adventure is complete. And unlike Trials, this isn’t a days-long overland journey, but more or less presumably takes place over the course of a day. That’s a bit too rapid for my tastes!

The adventure takes place on Senag Island, which is a day’s sail from the Tanith Peninsula of Solamnia. The White Dragonarmy set up camp on the island, conducting a ritual of some kind upon it. The PCs are hired by the Knights of Solamnia to infiltrate the island, destroy its watchtower, stop the ritual, and if possible free the prisoners who are being used as slave labor. The party will be paid 2,500 gold upfront, with the rest of the reward being undefined magic items. The Knight who hires the party was able to find details from a sending stone of a POW on the island, although said POW has since died and the information is coming from the minotaur Teeris Bearpelt. Teeris feels that his minotaur superiors in charge of this military detachment are acting dishonorably, particularly in imprisoning and killing unarmed prisoners for the ritual sacrifice rather than giving them a fighting chance.

The adventure is rather open-ended in that the order of objectives don’t have to be followed in a linear fashion. Doing some objectives before others can alter future encounters, such as the watchtower’s destruction ramping up Dragonarmy patrols and making them more common as random encounters. Stopping the ritual first will cause zombies to start springing up around the island who are hostile to everyone. While the Dragonlance Companion gives us a map of the island, it doesn’t have maps for the encounter areas, forcing the DM to do that work themselves.

The PCs can find allies on the island, such as the kender Yezree Bramblebough who an escaped prisoner and can provide the PCs with information about the island. As for Teeris Bearpelt, he can give directions to the ritual and while he won’t hinder the party, he won’t overtly help them either save during a possible final battle. As for the prisoners, they will fight alongside the PCs and use various improvised tools if they believe that the party will help free them, but individually are quite fragile. As for their opposition, the White Dragonarmy soldiers are spread out in patrols and guard most of the critical areas in this adventure. Draconian Soldiers and Scouts are the most common enemy types and are pretty easy for PCs to overcome at this level. Draconian Elite Troopers are typically lone captains in patrols, and are a lot beefier with better gear, a unique death throe where they explode into icy shards,* and can make two weapon attacks per turn. As for the minotaurs, the unnamed troops use the stats of the monster of the same name, with the named ones other than Teeris having their own unique stat blocks.

*None of the five default draconian types do this in the lore. Frost draconians do, but as those draconians are good-aligned it’s unlikely that they’ll have advanced far in the Dragonarmies before attempting to defect. They also were only created during the last months of the War of the Lance IIRC, so if this is a shoutout to them it’s a bit odd to not bring this up.

Destroying the Watchtower is the shortest and simplest task. The Watchtower is still undergoing construction, with the intended purpose of housing siege weapons to attack enemy ships. A work crew of prisoners is overseen by a few minotaurs and draconians, and the two major ways to send the watchtower crashing down involve getting a powder keg from Yezree or stealing a large batch of alchemist’s fire from the Dragonarmy camp.

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The Ritual of Sargonnas is in a clearing that can only be reached through the island’s tunnel network. Beyond a possible random encounter with a roper, the caves aren’t dangerous to traverse, and it is here the PCs will run into Teeris Bearpelt who can inform them about the ritual. A minotaur sorcerer known as Aremin Keenmind is hoping to sacrifice a trio of prisoners to his god Sargonnas, claiming that it is necessary in designing a weapon that will allow the Dragonarmy to make incursions into the Solamnic mainland. Said weapon is the ability to raise zombies at will, and he has a failsafe built in where if he’s slain then he will count as a sacrifice. Should he be taken prisoner, he will do all he can to provoke his captors into killing him. Upon his death, all deceased enemies on the island will rise as zombies, and this has effects on future encounters where slain creatures will then rise as zombies in 1d6 turns. Should the ritual be stopped, the magic on the island unravels, where every spell cast has a chance of causing a wild magic surge on a natural 1 of a d20 rolled independently for the purposes of determining such surges.

Keenmind doesn’t fight alone, and has two elite draconians at the ritual site with him. In terms of stats, Keenmind is a minotaur with a warhammer that deals extra lightning damage on a hit, has a rechargeable Thunderburst attack which is like the Thunderwave spell, and he can cast a small array of low-level spells.

The Wrath of the Dragonarmy covers the main contingent of Dragonarmy soldiers on the island, as well as where the bulk of prisoners are kept. The camp will be on high alert once the watchtower is destroyed and/or the ritual interrupted, and sensing a change in the wind the prisoners begin to covertly prepare for an uprising. Four draconian scouts and a minotaur hunter known as Raasra Wolfslayer will track down the PCs, holding Yezree as a hostage in hopes of putting the party at a disadvantage. Raasra is a modified minotaur, who wields two daggers with which he can sneak attack as well as a longbow, and although he still has a charge and gore attack he deals slightly more damage with his manufactured weapons. Which is a pretty neat touch, as a lot of players are likely to expect a minotaur to fight with heavy weapons and may be taken aback that the daggers are deadlier in his hands.

The Dragonarmy camp has a large number of draconian soldiers, with some minotaur soldiers including the commander Miralo Brighthorn. Brighthorn fights with a greataxe she can wield in one hand along with a shield bash attack, and as a bonus action she can give a command to an ally which gives them free movement and an attack. If the prisoners were freed the survivors will be rushing to a barge at the docks with soldiers in hot pursuit and zombies blocking the progress of both Dragonarmy and prisoners. If they’re still mostly imprisoned, zombies will be attacking the barracks in which the prisoners are held. The barge isn’t sturdy enough to hold both the PCs and surviving prisoners. Anyone who stays on the island is certain to get overwhelmed by zombies if they can’t escape, but extra boats can be found in the caves where the PCs met Teeris.

Should the PCs escape the island and return to their employer, they will be gratefully rewarded with a rare magic item based on the DM’s discretion. I find that interesting, as the adventure earlier implied that the PCs would be getting multiple magic items.

Thoughts: Escape From Senag Island is honestly hard to judge. First off, the rapid leveling in a very short period of time is highly subject to how the DM interprets the refreshing of resources. If they don’t refresh a level up like with spell slots, the PCs will need to spend at least 3 days on the island in order to gain the full benefits of their power increase. Additionally, I spotted quite a bit of mistakes: beyond a few spelling errors, several NPC and monster stat blocks have incorrect calculations, such as skill modifiers being off by one when you take into account relevant ability scores and proficiency bonuses. Then there are things like the lack of maps or the incongruence between the number of magic items as the quest reward, and it’s clear that this adventure could use another editing pass.

The last part of the Companion is Adventure Hooks, which provides a list of hooks strongly tied to the new player-facing content, with roughly one such hook per race, subclass, and background. There’s also a few for the new spells, magic items, and monsters in the book. As they are very brief and more to get the creative juices flowing, I won’t be covering these.

Overall Thoughts: It’s hard for me to decide on a recommendation for the Dragonlance Companion, because so much of the material within is of varying quality and may not be suitable for all fans. The new races, backgrounds, subclasses, feats, and spells point heavily to a player-friendly supplement, but with monsters and adventures taking up slightly less than half the page count a good portion is meant for DM eyes only. And even of the player-facing material, a lot of things associated with classic Dragonlance are missing or of more niche appeal. I can see a lot more people eager to play a Baaz rather than a Thanoi, or Knights of Neraka rather than Seekers. The Legacy Items don’t really seem all that inspiring, but the Herald Items for the gods of Krynn more or less do the same thing but much better. And as I mentioned before, some of the larger changes to the lore are sure to rankle the more purist set of fans.

If anything, the Dragonlance Companion is a grab-bag, where the only guarantee is that you’ll get a lot of Dragonlance content. The content doesn’t have a consistent level of quality, and given the price the only way I can or can’t recommend it is based on how important certain things in the book are to you. And whether you’re willing to shell out 20 dollars for the content that does sound appealing.

Some people will inevitably ask for comparisons with Tasslefhoff’s Pouches of Everything, as that’s the other big “companion expansion” sourcebook for 5e Dragonlance. I can’t make a recommendation right now, as when I first read that book it was a casual read. I will be reviewing that book next on its own terms, and once that’s finished I will grade the two books together.
 
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Libertad

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Side by Side Comparison

Now that I reviewed both Tasslehoff’s Pouches of Everything and the Dragonlance Companion, how do they stack up against each other?

First off, in terms of total content Tasslehoff’s is 140 pages, while the Companion is 182. 32 out of 140 pages of Tasslehoff’s are dedicated to an adventure, while 78 out of 182 pages of the Companion are dedicated to encounters and adventures. For their respective bestiaries, Tasslehoff’s is 12 pages but has 19 monsters, while the Companion also has 12 pages but only covers 9 monsters. For what can be deemed player-friendly content (including magic items), Tasslehoff’s has 75 pages of content, while the Companion has 80.

When it comes to Races, Tasslehoff’s clearly wins out. The only race the Companion has that Tasslehoff’s doesn’t is the Thanoi, but besides them it has an incomplete Draconian subrace and a Half-Ogre. Tasslehoff’s not only provides new races, it also explains in detail what place existing races have in the world, and to better differentiate them the classic humans/elves/dwarves have their own new subraces. What the Companion has over Tasslehoff’s, however, is using Tasha's alternative of being able to freely assign one’s ability score bonuses. Tasslehoff’s are still locked in to specific abilities which can limit character customization, but that isn’t as big of a problem if the DM allows Tasha’s customization.

When it comes to direct comparisons, Tasslehoff’s Draconians are closer in conception to the lore of prior Editions: their death throes are built-in rather than requiring a feat, for one. As for their features, Companion’s require a reaction to negate falling damage for winged draconians, but Tasslehoff’s ignores it as long as they have room to spread their wings. The Bozak subrace in Tasslehoff’s is more overtly offensive early on, and gets a better battlefield control spell via Web rather than Scorching Ray at 5th level. As for the Kapak, Tasslehoff’s one is stronger in that its paralytic poison can last for more than one turn, but the Companion can also produce healing saliva as an alternative. The Sivak’s shapeshifting trait is much more limited in the Companion in having a 1 hour time limit, but Tasslehoff’s can last as long as they desire until they revert or die.

As for their Half-Ogres, the Companion wins out in having more broadly useful abilities. For example, compare Tasslehoff’s AC increase that only applies when not wearing armor, vs the Companion who gets a flat +1 AC no matter what.

For Subclasses, Tasslehoff’s has 15 while the Companion has 13. When it comes to generalities, Tasslehoff’s wins out in the “authentic Dragonlance” department, having more subclasses that directly tie into the setting in some way or have existed in prior official material. An area that the Companion does win out in is having a better explanation of how to insert Warlocks into Dragonlance within the existing confines of magic by basically having them dedicated to a deity. Tasslehoff’s makes it so that non-gods are capable of granting arcane spellcasting to others, which doesn’t work in the traditional lore. Not even in the Fifth Age, where Primal Sorcery is less of a patron-granted power and more of a “natural feature” of the world.

When it comes to overall balance, I found Tasslehoff’s subclasses to swing a lot less between the underpowered/overpowered scale. I didn’t see anything on the scale as a Warlock Deity patron’s insane DPS potential, for instance. Additionally, Tasslehoff’s comes with a lot of nice things for martials and noncasters: the Knight of Solamnia’s Rose abilities, Way of Mantis Monk, and Nightstalker Rogue all get some very nice features. As for the Companion, the Path of the Dragon Barbarian and Tinkerer Rogue are quite good, and the Fewmaster has some nice features, but a lot of that subclasses’ features aren’t congruent with each other.

While most subclasses were unique enough, I did see a few that stepped on each other’s toes. Tasslehoff’s Path of the Dragon Totem and the Companion’s Path of the Dragon are both really close in both name and concept. I’d have to go with Companion’s on account of granting flight and immunity to the frightened condition, which help overcome problems with the Barbarian class staying in melee more reliably, as well as a better breath weapon capstone. And while they’re both part of different classes, the Circle of the Elements Druid and Elemental Blade Sorcerer both occupy the “spellcaster with an elemental weapon” niche. The Druid one wins out on being not as squishy as a Sorcerer and the expenditure of its class-based resources (Wild Shape, Sorcery Points) comes with more substantial and longer-lasting benefits.

Personally speaking, I’d give this one to Tasslehoff’s.

For Backgrounds and Feats, Tasslehoff’s provides us with broader options for both, while the Companion is more closely focused on certain races and archetypes. The Companion hews closer to focusing on making iconic organizations with built-in benefits, much like Shadow of the Dragon Queen did with giving the Knights of Solamnia and Mages of High Sorcery unique backgrounds and bonus feats. And of its non-organization feats, all of those are specific to particular races. Sadly, the Companion is limited in that both of its organizations only exist at certain points in the timeline: Seekers disband shortly after the return of the non-evil true gods and the Knights of Neraka are formed near the end of the Age of Despair. As for Tasslehoff’s, the backgrounds and feats are varied enough for a wide variety of character concepts, even if some are less balanced than others.

Another win for Tasslehoff’s.

Here’s the first of the big divergences: Tasslehoff’s has Weapons, but the Companion has Spells. Such comparisons are going to be apples to oranges, as different gaming groups are going to be attracted to different material.

For the coverage of the Gods, Tasslehoff’s is closer to original lore and doesn’t throw in fanon-feeling things like evil-aligned priestesses of Mishakal or Shinare having an “I hate poor people” Libertarian ethos. The Companion, however, makes serving the gods come with more built-in rules and benefits in the form of Piety and Herald Items.

Although I’m not as much a fan of the fanon changes, given their prominence in the stories I like the mechanical rewards for serving the gods, so I’m giving a point to the Companion.

For Magic Items, Tasslehoff’s has only 16 magic items, while the Companion has 22. However, the ones covered in the former are much more recognizable and iconic, such as the Blue Crystal Staff and the different types of Dragonlances. A lot more of the ones in the Companion are either original or perhaps from more obscure sourcebooks. It also does a weird thing in making the hoopak weapon a magic item. Frostreaver axes exist in both sourcebooks, but the one in the Companion is much stronger.

I’m leaning towards Tasslehoff’s on account that there are a few magic items whose inclusion really tells you that you’re in a Dragonlance campaign, and I don’t just mean Dragonlances. More gaming groups are going to be familiar with something like the Brightblade rather than the Oathkeeper, or find the mechanics of the Staff of Magius more fun than the Spellbook of Magius.

For their Bestiaries, Tasslehoff’s is much more tightly focused. While it has double the monsters in terms of stat blocks, around half of those are dragonspawn and draconians, and draconians already exist in Shadow of the Dragon Queen. For the rest of the monsters, they’re a small mixture of animals, a pair of undead, a desert dragon, ogre titan, and the skrit beetle. As for the Companion, it has more diversity, with quite a bit of fiends and undead. The skrit is the only monster that exists in both products, with the major differences in that Tasslehoff’s skrit is more of a death by a thousand cuts type in its slow drain of a target’s maximum hit points. The Companion, conversely, deals a lot of acid damage when biting a paralyzed target. The Companion also has a sidebar for people who want to have a skrit as a mount.

I favor the Companion over Tasslehoff’s in this regard, especially given that we already have draconian stat blocks in Shadow of the Dragon Queen. I will note that the adventures in both books give more stat blocks than what’s in the bestiary, albeit Champions of Krynn only has stats for specific NPCs and the monstrous enemies are derived from the existing core rules.

For Setting Material, Tasslehoff wins hands down. The Dragonlance Companion is more or less focused on mechanics with a few adventures and encounters in back. Tasslehoff’s paints a more complete picture of Ansalon beyond what is provided in Shadow of the Dragon Queen.

When it comes to Adventures, the Dragonlance Companion has more material in general: 2 short encounters and 2 full-length adventures. While I haven’t reviewed it yet, the adventure that comes with Tasslehoff’s is a short adventure for 1st level PCs that involves investigating a goblinoid takeover of a town in Throtl. It’s a lot more cliche and by the numbers in that regard, while the adventures in the Companion are more detailed and original in feel. One point to the Companion.

Overall Thoughts: Tallying up the votes, we have 5 for Tasslehoff’s and 3 for the Companion. The places where the Companion wins are the gods, bestiaries, and adventures, which ironically makes Tasslehoff’s the superior option in terms of player-friendly material. This result matches more or less how I felt during my initial readings, although doing a detailed rundown helped me see the Companion’s strengths a bit more. While the Dragonlance Companion has its own strengths, if you had to ask me directly I’d point fans towards Tasslehoff’s Pouches of Everything.
 

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