Friday, September 4, 2015

Dragons of Renewal Teaser: a Homebrew Dragonlance Project

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?

Table of Contents (WIP)

Opening Fiction

In the dark heart of the Dragon Empire, a Council of Highlords is called in the Temple ofTakhisis.  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 Gree 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.