Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Deadly Delves Reign of Ruin

Reign of Ruin is a 34 page adventure for Swords & Wizardry by Jon Brazer Enterprises, suitable for a party of 6th level PCs. In terms of transparency I received a complimentary copy for review purposes.

The book opens up with some starting fiction and background. The background is a set-up for the adventure, where the descendant of a long-dead black dragon tyrant mobilizes her minions to menace the warm-blooded races who her forebear terrorized so long ago. The backstory is a bit wordy and rather specific with proper names and regions. I feel that it could be shortened considerably to be more generic for the purposes of individual campaigns.

As for the present era, the plot hook for the party to get involved is via a scout’s last dying words of the razed city of Northam and its need for reinforcements. The other hook involves traveling merchants explaining in more detail that the Ixtupi (lizardmen devotees of the black dragon) have come to attack the village as revenge. Once the PCs get to the town, they find it in the aftermath of a massacre, with a few clues pointing to the identities and motives for their attackers in the form of a survivor’s testimony and draconic graffiti. The clues give a relatively good sense of the opposition for a canny group of players (corpses whose flesh seems to have dissolved off their bodies which is the result of acidic breath weapon), but overall I feel that this adventure could have had a stronger start if it began proper with the party arriving in the town. The merchant adventure hook is too much “tell, not show” and ideally the site of an attacked settlement alone should be enough to attract the PC’s attention.

Further encounters before the main dungeon itself include the village of Mistlevy (the raiders’ next target) and a swamp encounter where the Ixtupi are fighting a rival tribe of lizardfolk. In both of these encounters there is quite a fair number of enemies, but also potential allied NPCs to fight alongside. This does a good job of preventing characters from feeling overwhelmed, but on the other hand risks the GM rolling “against himself” a fair bit if their gaming group is slower-paced. A good idea may be to grant the players the opportunity to control said NPCs; I did this in various campaigns, which made my gaming group feel more engaged with the battle.

Additionally the first encounter has a point where the black dragon main villain makes a personal appearance to wreak havoc before fleeing back to her temple headquarters. The intent of the adventure is that the party will face her down in the heart of her lair, with the first encounter as a taste of things to come. Although mobile and strong like many dragons, the old adage “if it has stats, the players can kill it” holds strong. A bad saving throw or lucky attacks may bring the dragon down at the outset, and given that the final encounter is a pretty clever room full of terrain-based hazards, this would be robbing the gaming group of a good fight later on down the road.

The temple itself has three major levels not counting the aboveground entryway. It has a healthy mix of reptilian monsters, undead, animated objects, and other creature types to prevent combat from getting too monotone. The dungeon is the meat of the adventure, and there are quite a few traps. There was one trap that I liked but felt could have been executed better: stone pillars which summon corrupted elementals if a spellcaster uses magic which deals energy/elemental damage while within their vicinity. It takes an otherwise common tactic of “blast them all” to use against the party in a thematically interesting way. Unfortunately said trap is a one-time occurrence so that it is likely to happen without the players growing aware as to their purpose. A repeat appearances of pillars would engender a cautious mindset in players; they would need to weigh whether they risk using powerful magic against the enemies currently arrayed against them, but at the possibility of biting off more than they can chew. Another involves a room which fills with acidic water while dragonblood brutes (who are themselves immune to acid) attack the party. A hidden lever can be found during combat to drain the room. I particularly like this touch; it combines monsters and environmental hazards together in a way I don’t see often in many OSR modules.

As for enemies, there are mentions of what happens if the complex goes on alert, notably in the form of kobold slaves acting as messengers. However, most of the intelligent monsters rarely go beyond their own rooms and instead prepare to attack PCs who come to them first. This feels a bit artificial, and while it makes sense in some cases (unintelligent undead and constructs) it would’ve been nice to have suggestions for what rooms monsters would retreat to or use as chokepoints in case of an invasion of the temple. Lord knows the complex has enough traps to exploit for this purpose!

The final encounter with the black dragon overlord has a good description of the room in which the battle will take place, with descriptions of terrain for both the party and for the dragon to use to their advantage.

Miscellaneous Thoughts: The maps for this adventure are well-detailed. Full-color and grid-based, they cover the entirety of the main dungeon as well as the first encounter. The adventure also makes clever use of existing class features. The “Open Doors” roll, for example, is used for various feats of strength such as escaping from the grip of a giant venus flytrap or pushing a fallen stone block trap to reopen a passageway.

The adventure itself is rather expensive for its size ($10 for a 34 page adventure). Given that adventures have limited replay value for gaming groups, this reduces its viability in comparison to other Swords & Wizardry products of similar length but at more affordable prices. I understand the need to make up costs especially given the detail of the maps, but as a consumer it will not be an attractive option.

Clarification: The book's price as a PDF dropped to $6.95

In conclusion, Deadly Delves: Reign of Ruin rates well for an OSR adventure. It has the core idea of a dungeon delve, but the terrains, traps, and enemies are varied and well-detailed enough to keep the players on their toes. Its low points are that the BBEG shows up too early (and thus risks the potential for an early death), as well as the fact that temple has a high enough number of traps to the point of triggering player paranoia which can slow gaming to a crawl. But overall the good outweighs the bad in this dungeon crawl. My final verdict is a 3.5 out of 5 stars, rounded to 3 for the purposes of OneBookShelf.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Belated Farewell

Hello everyone. As you are aware, I've been on a blogging hiatus. Looking at the last entry from August 27th really hit home how long it's been. There's a variety of personal reasons for my slowdown, but the biggest issue is that my creative well has run dry for things to write about. I could write whatever seems catchy or comes to my head, but the last thing I want is to turn into a tabletop news aggregate churning out clickbait. I may come back if I feel the muse return, but I cannot predict when that will happen.

I am happy that for the past 3 years my writings provided entertainment and inspiration to fellow gamers. From homebrew to rewrites to topical issues I covered a wide range, and I feel that my own creative writing grew all the stronger thanks to it. It's been a good long ride, and I hope to meet you all once again on the foggy road that is the future.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL9: Dragons of Deceit

by Larry Elmore


After recuperating from the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, the party is approached by D'argent/Silvara in her disguised form. She tells them that they must head out to the city of Sanction in the heart of Takhisis' empire. The key to the good dragons' Oath of Neutrality is there, and if successful can help bring them into the war against the Dragonarmies. Silvara is tight-lipped about the specifics, not letting up about the nature of the draconians' creation until the PCs see for themselves. The party has a choice of going by sea or by land, both paths with their own encounters along the way.

Whether by imprisonment or infiltration, the party has the opportunity to find out the truth in the Temple of Luerkhesis where a Black Robe wizard, a cleric of Takhisis, and a red dragon conduct a ritual to transform metallic dragon eggs into draconian spawn. The PCs may encounter the Shadowpeople, a secretive race living beneath the city who can aid their escape as the draconian chamber sets off magical alarms to send a group of soldiers to kill the intruders. If the PCs escape into the shadowpeople chambers, they'll be teleported to the hidden island where the metallic dragons live. Once informed of the Dragonarmy's true use of their children, the Oath of Neutrality is broken and they fly south with the heroes to Palanthas to lend their aid to the forces of Good. The PCs will have opportunity to ride on their backs with Dragonlances in tow during an assault on the city of Sanction.

Victorous, there is only the final city of Neraka to conquer, where the two once-split parties of Winter and Spring unite for one last battle against the forces of evil!

Things to Change/Look Out For

D'argent/Silvara: Interestingly, the AD&D version of the module suggests handing over control and accommodating backstory notes of the silver dragon to a player as a one-time thing for the adventure. Instead of controlling 2 PCs at once, the player gets to control the dragon in lieu of their normal PC. Be it AD&D or 3.5, she will doubtless be along for the ride albeit mostly in a humanoid form. Having a player run her is a good idea, albeit with the caveat that she will not take dragon form save at a dramatically appropriate moment (like escaping with the good dragon eggs or such). You might also want to allow the player to control their PC if they think they can manage both adequately.

In AD&D terms, dragons are nowhere near as strong as they are in 3.5, so in the latter there's a chance that even in a weaker humanoid body Silvara can be a powerful character. Consider making a level-appropriate stat block for whoever she is intended to be disguised (wizard, fighter, etc).

As recommended in my last blog post, I had the mission known immediately from the outset along with a threat from Ariakas to turn herself over or else more metallic dragon eggs will be squashed for every day that passes. This provides a good hook and motivation, and it's possible the players at this point in the campaign are putting two and two together regarding the reasons behind the Oath.

"No metallic dragons, the draconians all have their scale colors...something seems fishy here.

Travel: The trek to Sanction by land or sea is going to be long, and there's lot of unrelated encounters along the way. Some of them can be fun, such as running through a Dragonarmy blockade to get to Sanction's port. But at this level, and assuming that time is of the essence, the PCs may very well resort to teleportation, long-term flight (via summoned monsters or spells), or other means to bypass regions. In my own campaign I had the PCs abscond with supplies from the White and Red Robe army camps around the High Clerist Tower. This was done to get the spell components to teleport, a very powerful magical spell even in higher-magic settings. The meat of the plot and drama takes place in Sanction, so it may be a good idea to speed up the process or excise it entirely unless your group likes the idea of overland travel with lots of events.

Sanction: In the original adventure, Sanction was a sprawling city amidst an active volcano, much like Mordor. The majority was rundown, with shantytowns and tent-cities from the large influx of mercenaries, draconians, and other wicked folk. The temples, relics of pre-Cataclysm times, are the exception and now used as military stations and meeting points for Dragonarmy VIPs.

In my own campaign, I changed the aesthetics a bit. Sanction was still near an ashy mountain range, but Ariakas wanted the heart of his empire to reflect the beauty of old Istar. There was a large colosseum built in town, both for him to make grandiose public speeches as well as blood sport for entertainment. The city was vertical: the lowest tiers contained the slums and shantytowns while the higher tiers more well-to-do sections with the temples, manors.

The effects of the Dragonarmy rhetoric were present. Drakenheim Academy was where the younger generation of citizens were taught propaganda of the new order. With the aid of clerical magic and the Black Robes, there were ample magical resources as well. When my PCs arrived in town, a set of skulls atop poles acted as a sort of magical broadcasting system to echo Ariakas' speech from the colosseum so that all citizens may hear it. A pair of children ran down the muddy street, one of them displaying a minor bit of clerical magic with youthful wonder while wearing a Medallion of Takhisis.

I made a full transcript of Ariakas' speech here, cribbing notes from real-world dictators (mostly Hitler and Stalin), albeit altered to fit the circumstances of Krynn. I had lines from it interspersed throughout the adventure as the PCs went about Sanction rather than reading it all at once. It may not work if any of your players are familiar with the speeches, but it worked well for my group in making Ariakas an intimidating yet well-spoken figure.

The draconian birthing chamber had a separate room for ones born with deformities, a sliding shoot leading down to a cavernous room to be devoured by slimes (which the PCs saw and put a stop to in saving one from such a fate).

In this way, Sanction was a gilded city. It echoed the glories of a grand and civilized society, but only its trappings. For beneath the thin paint of gold, evil and tyranny could be found.

Interior Artwork from Dragons of Deceit, AD&D Version

Early Encounters with Ariakas: There are 2 opportunities the PCs may meet the Emperor of Ansalon earlier than the final chapter of the Dragonlance Saga. The first is during a public parade in Sanction where he's driving a chariot drawn by human slaves. Kitiara and 20 bodyguards are at his side during this. Another if the PCs get captured and are interrogated in the Temple of Luerkhisis.

The 3.5 version says that even if Ariakas is to die, his body will be taken by guards to one of the temples where he will be resurrected via dark rituals. Although done to prevent a premature victory, it takes a bit of the sense of accomplishment out of the equation. Like the old adage of "if it has stats, players can kill it," you may wish to avoid having the Emperor appear early. My skeleton pole system still gave off his presence while not being physically present, and the PCs were preoccupied with saving the good dragon eggs instead of assassinating the Emperor. As a result, things worked out for my campaign this way.

Two-Page Splash of the Battle of Sanction in the 3.5 version

Discovery, Escape, and the Final Encounter: I admit that my own campaign's progress went very differently from the standard adventure. For one, Silvara teleported away with the good dragon eggs to the Isle while the rest of the PCs fought their way out. They were challenged to battle on the streets of Sanction by their Kitiara Counterpart NPC, who they were intent on saving from what they thought was Ariakas' brainwashing.  Fighting her on top of her dragon, the rest of the city's chromatics gave pursuit with the Green Dragon Highlord Salah-Khan at their helm (what can I say, our Dragonlance was a lot more high-octane than usual). The battle/pursuit was later joined by a flight of 30 metallic dragons led by Silvara in dragon form to counter their assault. The battle mat was a riotous assembly of good and evil dragons which PCs could ride or run on, fighting other riders and the Dragon Highlords. It had the climactic feeling of the standard final encounter, albeit with a clear "boss" for the PCs to fight rather than nameless dragons and soldiers.

In your own games, you might consider going with the standard adventure, or just have the 12 nameless dragons with an undefeated Dragon Highlord at their command (Kitiara Counterpart is highly appropriate for this). Furthermore, the PCs might attempt to escape with the good dragon eggs themselves (there's a lot of them) by piling them into Bags of Holding or as much as they can carry to get word out. Or maybe the latent anti-divination magics concealing the dragon eggs' location is removed once the PCs are out of the Temple, allowing the metallic dragons to come to their aid right then and there.

But regardless of what you do, don't deny your PCs the opportunity to ride on dragons!

Closing Thoughts

Dragons of Deceit is a very good conclusion to the Dragons of Winter arc. The major areas to work on include the primary motivation, how to handle Silvara's role, and giving an "enemy face" of an important NPC in the final battle. Otherwise the adventure works quite well.

Next time, we shall start on the first chapter of the Dragons of Spring arc, Dragons of Dreams!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Martial Disciple: a pseudo-Vancian fighting class for 5th Edition

Hey folks. I realize that it seems I dropped off the face of the Internet blogging-wise. Much of the blame is other projects sucking away my time to commit. But fortunately the fruits of my labors resulted in a new book for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition! As one raised on the 3rd Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, I am a big fan of options in games no matter the character concept. And while there are good parts in 5th Edition, the noncasting martial classes felt rather 'blah' in terms of things to do beyond basic attacks.

The Martial Disciple is, in short, a new system inspired by Tome of Battle/Path of War with special moves known as techniques. Techniques are akin to spells in that they are limited-use abilities which play off of the short/long rest and are grouped into 8 fighting schools based on style and thematics. There is a new eponymous class which draws off of this system as well as 5 archetypes for existing core classes to get in on the fun.

Techniques: Much like Path of War or Tome of Battle, you have Strikes which are offensive in nature; Counters, which are reactions triggered by attacks and effects; Boosts, which are 'buffs' to your abilities; and Stances, which are long-term buffs which last indefinitely but you can only choose one to use every long rest. Fighting schools represent groups of related abilities: Reaper's Field is optimized for heavy weapons and overwhelming force, Prowling Panther relies on trickery and misdirection, and Alchemic Warrior revolves around personal serums, bombs, and debilitating chemicals.

Class: The new class is the same as the book's title, meant to represent a sort of generic warrior akin to the Fighter save that they interact heavily with techniques. Unlike the Fighter they designate one of three mental ability scores as their Martial Ability akin to a spellcaster. Intelligence represents tactical masterminds, Wisdom for ascetic and hunter types, and Charisma for inspiring leaders and the like.

Archetypes for the Martial Disciple include the Avatar of War, who has a supernatural connection to a planar realm of conflict and can call weapons and figures from said realm; the Challenger, a seeker of self-improvement who can sense the strongest opponent on the battlefield and turn enemy attacks and strength against them; and the Wandering Stranger, who has a bit of a Clint Eastwood vibe with an offensive staredown and a limited legend lore used for gathering rumors said about themselves.

Archetypes for existing core class include:

Commando for the Rogue who specializes in misdirection and special operations style tactics such as being able to gain a floating tool proficiency reflecting training for specialized missions.
Daredevil for the Rogue who is all about flair and panache. Can do things like move through vertical spaces and open air as difficult terrain as long as they have rope for swinging or gambits where you voluntarily impose disadvantage on a roll in exchange for a potential boon if successful.
Path of the Destroyer for the Barbarian (think Juggernaut from X-Men), who is all about building up momentum and mobility while raging for self-buffs like freedom of movement (unstoppable object) or passwall effect (breaking through walls).
Tactician for the Fighter who can trade out a saving throw proficiency during a long rest for adapting to one's environment, adding proficiency bonus to skills related to soldiery matters, and the like.
Way of the United Spirit for the Monk who specializes in Alchemic Warrior and Trance Dancer (spirit-possessed warrior) who uses alchemy and esoteric religious rituals to push their body and mind to its maximum potential.

Hopefully I ignited your interest in my book. It was a fun thing to make for me, and I hope it is even more fun for you to use at your gaming table! You can find it below on these online storefronts:

Drive-Thru Link.

RPGNow Link.

Open Gaming Store Link.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Northlands Saga, Part Four: Beyond the Wailing Mountains

The destruction of the Second Temple of Ice and Stone did not go unnoticed by the Children of Althunak, for the frozen corpse of Aluki's brother Kelvani was sent back to the village of Laquirv along with a monstrous raiding party around early spring. Thankfully our heroes were staying the winter while the Long Serpent headed back to pick them up in a few months, and the cult's assault failed thanks to their efforts. One of the faithful, a woman enhanced by the demon-god's magic and clad in illusory armor designed to make her look undead, was taken alive and enchanted by Syrasi to reveal that they came from a city on the other side of the Wailing Mountains.

After retrieving the sacred weapons from Hero's Rock again, Aluki volunteered to lead the party across the Far North given the danger of the terrain. Along the way, Vigbjorn challenged a woolly rhinoceros to a valiant battle, and in the mountains fought an over-eager frost giant guarding the pass for the cult. What lay ahead after these trials was a deathly cold wasteland where the sun never sets.

The City of the Lord of Winter was grand in size, yet entire sections of town lay abandon. The covering the south, west, and east sides had a mixture of humans (with endure elements) and demonic guards keeping watch. The party used their magical folding boat to traverse the lake at its north, upon which the First Temple of Ice and Stone proudly rose from the lakebed. Climbing up subtly, they overheard a conversation between Elvanti, the leader of the Children of Althunak, and Karnak Seven-Sorrows, a servitor demon.

Elvanti welcomed the party, and being rather curious asked the party what promises the Ulnat gave that he couldn't possibly give. Syrasi's answer ("there are people among them who care for me and I care about") infuriated him, whereas Askeladden's answer was more practical ("you tried to have me killed several times"). At this point Karnak teleported into the room to aid his lord, and the battle just begun!

Althunak's Chosen proved more than a pushover, for in addition to being a strong warrior he also could turn nature itself against his enemies by summoning ice and lightning storms. Thanks to the many open skylights in the main temple area, he caught the heroes by surprise this way. Even in defeat he was unbowed, mocking Vigbjorn right before the trollkin cut him in half. The demon Karnak Seven-Sorrows, meanwhile, gave a mocking salute to the statue of Althunak in leaving his service right before he got dismembered.

The party looted the temple's treasure room, and freed a dozen Ulnat prisoners planned to be used as bargaining chips. But the rest of the cult was not idle, and six cultist warriors with a pair of ice demons came rushing in via the south. Thanks to some preparation of bear traps and a decoy unseen servant, the party broke their ranks with a well-timed glitterdust and good old-fashioned physical combat!

Once the cult's best forces were felled, the PCs fled the temple to notice the rest of their forces in disarray. Demons screamed and teleported away, while mortal faithful were fighting among themselves for leadership. Although the demon-god still exists, his reach in Midgard was shortened considerably. A victorious party ventured back across the Wailing Mountains to the Seal Coast, where grateful Ulnat awaited them along with the crew of the Long Serpent.

Awaiting them back at Silvermeade Hall was Inga, Henrikson's eldest daughter and now Jarl of the town. She apologized for her earlier arrogant ways back in Spring Rites, and brought up the old deal she had with Hallbjorn before his loss at sea. Hallbjorn promised to donate 10 percent of loot to the families of warriors who were injured and perished as a result of the war against the Children of Althunak. Although she didn't press the issue, Askeladden was less amenable to the deal. The rest of the party honored their comrade's promise and donated their share.

GM's Notes

In the original adventure, several of the Children of Althunak's minions were female prisoners transformed into monsters known as snow brides. One of the brides who attacks the village of Laquir is Klinqa, the woman who first rebuffed Elvanti's hand in marriage. Given that this had overtones of sexual assault a few of my players would not appreciate, I changed the "snow brides" into generic minions disguised as undead so as to get fighters to waste the wrong spells on them.

Karnak Seven-Sorrows was a character of my own creation, a babau demon. Replacing two snow brides in the final fight, I figured a teleporting demon would make for a good combination with Elvanti's weather control magic. Elvanti's appearance was also different. In the original adventure he was transformed fully into the Chosen of Althunak, appearing like a huge furred emaciated monster. I kept the same stats, but otherwise had Elvanti appear as a medium size human with a reach weapon. There wasn't much reason for this aside from aesthetics and wanting to give a "human face" to the major villain of the Far North adventure arc.

The folding boat helped the PCs bypass much of the encounters gained if one went through the ruined city via the front gate. I made up for that with cult reinforcements upon Elvanti's death.

I forgot to tell the PCs about the initial 15% agreement from Hallbjorn's voyage back in Vengeance of the Long Serpent. I figured introducing it here could be a good test of their character.

I'm sorry for the long-overdue update for Northlands, but I hope you enjoyed reading it. Our next adventure takes our heroes all around the region to end a death-curse from the legendary reaver Sven Oakenfist!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL8: Dragons of War

Artwork from Legacy: War of Dragons MMORPG


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

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. 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

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!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Slumbering Tsar, Session 3

That day the rest of the party explored the mound, its last guardians a shadowy bear which was incorporeal but could not fly (thus making it susceptible to an extradimensional pit), a skeleton-bearing undead ooze filling up a tunnel, and a group of berserkers-turned-wights. The party discovered that this burial mound was for the great warlord Tark, who fought alongside the Army of Light and managed to turn the battle in their favor when the forces of Tsar sought to dig under the army encampment and burst up from the ground in the middle of the night. Digging up in the middle of the barbarians' tents, it was a terrible disaster...for the devotees of Orcus.

And so even though the mound was made to honor the fallen, even in death does the Desolation's taint spread. After securing some magic items and a ceremonial armor for Alexis, the party headed back to the Camp and sold off their wares for the local iron bits. While selling their wares, the party gathered some information. Arliden heard rumor of an unlucky cursed troupe of merchants wandering the Desolation to this day, as well as a sleeping army beneath the ground who will wake up one day to finish the job of cleansing Tsar. Alexis got word that the local hermit is in fact a vampire who came to town to take back the bar stolen from him by Lucky Bjorc. Finally, rumors of a mysterious midnight peddler, who seems undeterred by the land's many dangers, only sells to people he chooses and those who buy from him are blessed with good luck.

Deciding to pitch a tent and stay the night, the party was awoken when the corpse which hung from the gallows was now up and about, seeking fresh blood. A steady stream of magma and rock  from Nobu rent its soul from its flesh, and soon the party became known as the people who took out the "Hanged Man" who wandered the Camp at night.

Shortly after doing so did the party come to find Griswald, the town's literally ghoulish undertaker, who was oddly well-dressed and polite for a creature of his kind. Grateful for the party "taking care of that local inconvenience" he said that as adventurers they might be interested in a local druidic grove in the Ashen Waste of fellow folk seeking to cleanse the Desolation of its taint. He also mentions that unknown forces have taken an interest in Tsar and are defending its outer walls, the most obvious a huge dragon spotted near the sandpits on the outskirts.


Thanking Griswald for this info, the party decides to visit this druidic grove, who found a way to blossom in the middle of a lifeless wasteland. While venturing in the Ashen Wastes the party found evidence of a struggle of a dwarf and human warrior who killed each other, while a third survivor's tracks led northeast, all the way to the grove.

The grove itself was a marvel, a miniature forest with pines as tall as 80 feet and thick undergrowth. After fighting off a pair of dire tigers, the party found a thorny hedge of demon skulls decorated around the entrance. Inside the party came face to face with Skeribar, the local ranger guide from the Camp. He at first claimed ignorance of any recent visitors, but when called on it explained that the woman would not recover and the only merciful option was a quick death. After some clever lies of omission, the party earned the rangers' trust, and he explained how the growth of the grove is supernatural in nature, but requires the blood of the living to flourish. He said that this was a necessary evil, for the grove does manage to hold back the supernatural taint of the Desolation.

The Reclaimers

Skeribar and the newly-arrived druids came out to show the party the specifics of their ritual, which apparently involved gathering the tears from a nearby wooden shrine in the shape of a humanoid face. Nobu recognized the "face" as the head of a stick giant, a symbiotic plant/giant hybrid whose sappy tears where being used to magically accelerate plant growth in even the most barren of environs. Reddish spots on the ground lead to another nearby grove, where Alexis' faerie dragon familiar flew off covertly to investigate.

Warned of the shrine's true nature telepathically, Arliden at first offered and then forced his way into the giants' minds. The creature was capable of sapient thought, but decades of imprisonment and torturous pain rendered him full of hatred and vengeance, uncaring of whether or not his powers were being used for any greater good. "Desolation or no, there will always be wickedness," he said.

As for the other grove, an elven maiden was inside the hollow oak of a large tree, kept in place by a rootlike cage. As the draconic familiar attempted to speak to her, she warned it not to come any closer, for the tree was a trap. At this point the tree came to life with a loud moan, alerting the druids that their grove has been sabotaged, and being none too trusting of the newcomer PCs.

And so our session ended on a cliffhanger.