Thursday, September 10, 2015

Dragons of Renewal: Character Creation

Heroes of the Lance 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

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.

Character Creation (Swords & Wizardry)

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.


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.


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.


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 shit 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.