Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Dragons of Renewal: Overarching Themes

Laurana the Golden General by Larry Elmore

Before a campaign starts one must address the typical issues with the players: whether or not they find the proposed idea engaging, whether it's going to be a short arc or a long-runner, whether they already read said module, etc.  This post is all about this, albeit with things specific to the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Lack of Magic Item Shops (Pathfinder)

This is not as debilitating as it is in Swords & Wizardry, but in Pathfinder the wealth by level guidelines assume a minimum amount of items in the PCs' possession at certain levels.  Although I addressed this in last post the idea of scaling magic items for Swords & Wizardry, here I find an alternate ruleset in Pathfinder Unchained to be optimal for the newer ruleset.  Automatic Bonus Progression does away with the Big Six requirements of things such as trading in +1 swords for +3 swords, the necessity of Cloaks of Resistance, and the like by making bonuses inherently scaling with level.  That way PCs don't have to load themselves down with magic items like walking Christmas tree ornaments.  This still leaves room for the more unorthodox magic items such as flying carpets, bags of tricks, and the like which still have value.

The 3rd Edition Dragonlance sourcebooks suggest a pool of bonus experience points for spellcasters to create magic items.  As Pathfinder does away with exp costs, I instead recommend a pool of spell points equal to gold pieces on a 1-1 basis representing resources and research notes for PCs to build their own items.  I recommend keeping them equal 1/5th the wealth by level guidelines, or halving them if using the Automatic Bonus Progression house rule.  The Points below are the total for each level and not refreshed.  Meaning that a PC who goes from 5th to 6th level gains 1,100 Spell Points.

Level  Spell Points
5          2,100
6          3,200
7          4,700
8          6,600
9          9,200
10        12,400
11        16,400
12        21,600
13        28,000
14        37,000

Kender, Gully Dwarves, and Gnomes: The Comic Relief Trio

A sizable amount of gamers, even those who do not regularly play Dragonlance, have a burning hatred of these races, kender especially.  In many cases this is due to players using kender as an opportunity to engage in disruptive shenanigans which are a headache for everyone else.  Gully dwarves get a bad rap because of extreme stupidity being a defining character trait.  As for the gnomes, many folk don't like their absent-minded professor archetype and unreliable advanced technology, but personally I don't see them or gully dwarves as problematic as kender.

Aside from dislike, the three are meant to be comic relief races, and the thing with humor is that it's subjective.  There's a difference between how humor is conveyed written versus verbally, and the same for humor that appears while reading a book versus playing a game session.  There might be one gamer who loves the comic relief trio's personality quirks, and another who finds them more annoying and wants that part of the session to end and get on with the rest of the adventure.

So, what should we do?  I have a few proposed fixes below, which I wrote some time ago on The RPG Site:

1. Kender Redux: Keep the Kender penchant for curiosity, fearlessness, and generally optimistic outlook on life. But have them capable of understanding the concept of property and don't have the incessant need to "borrow" stuff.

Especially in eras like the Age of Despair, taking even a minor object such as a woodcutter's axe makes a noticeable drain on small communities. Without the axe, the woodcutter can't chop wood, and he won't be able to do his job if he can't find a replacement tool. That's just one Kender; imagine the havoc an entire community of them will wreak on nearby settlements!

Revised Kender should understand that taking objects without permission can result in hardship and misery for others; given that Kender are optimistic and want to be everyone's friend, they wouldn't want to deprive others of things without good reason.

Instead of "borrowing" play up the other aspects of Kender.  They might hear of an art gallery opening in town, and be utterly determined to become the best painter ever in spite of having no training.  They might offer to trade or part with items in exchange for an interesting tale.  They might over-prepare for long journeys and spend their money on objects only useful in highly-implausible circumstances ("ten pounds of salt just in case we end up fighting monster slugs").  Such things are less likely to lead to the breakdown of trust which usually results in PCs stealing from the party or getting the entire group into trouble for taking something they shouldn't.

2. Gully Dwarf Redux: The origin of the Aghar, or Gully Dwarves, is unclear. Many people say that they're the result of dwarves and tinker gnomes mating, but many of the theory's proponents bandy it about as justification for the Aghar's poor treatment.

The Aghar lived in the prosperous mountain kingdom of Thorbadin. They were the lowest rung on the caste of Dwarven society. Their ancestors were the dishonered, criminals, outcasts, the insane, and other folk looked down upon by society. The Aghar were relegated to the slums and forced into the most menial and dangerous of jobs. Since the "high" dwarves believed that their system was favored by Reorx, they taught their children that the status quo was just and that the Aghar deserved their fate.

The Aghar did not care much for this way of thinking, and turned their backs on the traditional pantheon of deities for their perceived abandonment. The Aghar strove to become better people in this life to prove to Thorbadin that they were worthy of dignity.

Thorbadin's Aghar eagerly joined the military in the Dwarfgate Wars on both sides. Those fighting against the hill dwarves hoped that their service would grant them the status of "high" dwarf, while those who fought with the hill dwarves sought to overthrow their nation's oppressive system.

After the Hill Dwarves lost, the Aghar loyal to Thorbadin were denied entry back into their mountain home. Enraged, the formerly loyal Aghar swore that they would never be loyal to any non-Aghar from this day forward. The Aghar who served on the other side of the war forged a pact with them, telling them that they will always find a home among their fellow Aghar.

And so the Aghar lived throughout the Age of Despair, roaming Ansalon in nomadic bands. They would camp near towns and offer their services as sellswords and laborers. Like their Dwarven hold of old, they lived on the fringes of society; except now, they were free men and women, pledged to no city-state, nation, or deity.

I don't feel that a Gnome Redux is necessary because personally, it shouldn't take much to make them non-humorous.  Gnomish advanced technology can still be unreliable, and given how much nations act in the Age of Despair they may not be so keen on introducing more potentially dangerous knowledge into the hands of the humans, dwarves, elves, and other races in the Age of Despair.

The Kitiara Replacement

Kitiara and the Dragon Army by DarkAkelarre of deviantart

Kitiara is one of the major villains of the Dragonlance Chronicles.  Formerly one of the heroes' adventuring companions, sister to the Majere twins and lover of Tanis, her status is more personal and connected than the remoteness of Emperor Ariakas or Takhisis the Dark Queen.  Unlike other villains such as Verminaard, her background allows her to exploit the party's weaknesses such as the love Tanis and Laurana have for each other (and the love Tanis still harbors for Kitiara).

The base adventure features her as a recurring villain during the Dragons of Spring arc, although with a custom-created party with no ties to the original characters Kitiara loses her uniqueness.  She just becomes yet another major enemy general of the Dragonarmies to vanquish, like Verminaard or Feal-Thas.  Still, I think that the idea of a major villain with a personal connection to the party is a great idea, and replacing her with an NPC tailor-made to your group is a worthy endeavor.  If one or more of the players read the book series, consider asking them privately for ideas in case you want to keep things a surprise for the rest of the group when the reveal comes.

Appearances: Kitiara herself does not appear until the early Dragons of Spring arc when the eastern team of the party goes to the town of Flotsam.  From then on she appears several more times: twice during Dragons of Faith, the first during an assault in the Blood Sea to retrieve Berem the Green Gemstone Man on the PC's ship, another time on the shipwrecked islands of Karthay for the same task.  The final time is in Dragons of Triumph when the Dragon Highlords reunite at the city of Neraka to prepare for their goddess' re-entry into the world to turn the tide of the war once and for all.

There are two false appearances, one during Dragons of Shadows when a Dreamshadow illusion appears to the PCs, and another time during Dragons of Faith when the aurak draconian Gildentongue disguised as her fights the PCs in the underwater ruins of Istar.

Now that you know in what instances she appears in the adventure and her relationship to the party, you can get a sense of what to prepare for while designing your Kitiara Replacement.  Below are a few suggestions.

The Friendship Betrayed: In this scenario, Kitiara's replacement is much like the standard Chronicles.  When the Companions meet for the second time at the Inn of the Last Home in the village of Solace, Tanis reveals that Kitiara could not make it due to employment by a new lord.  In your custom Chronicle, once the PCs reunite together they notice that one of their own is missing.  The truth is that she's joined the Dragonarmies.  Some of the group may have heard this but unwilling to believe it, or all might be kept in the dark.

The Fallen Knight: This scenario works best if one or more PCs belong to the Knights of Solamnia.  Kitiara's replacement turned on her order and her country to join the Dragonarmies.  Perhaps she grew tired of the knighthood's failures as one too many members forgot the spirit of the Oath and Measure and instead sees something in Takhisis' new order.  Maybe she fell for the Emperor's honeyed words of how his reign brought order, unity, and magic back to a devastated continent, and Solamnia can one day know this glory as well.

For another idea, perhaps she's a Wizard of High Sorcery instead, and was a good friend and classmate to a wizard PC.  Before they set off into the world, she joined the Order of Black Robes and got recruited into the Dragonarmies like many others of her number.

The Vengeful Scholar: This backstory may work best if you use an alternative explanation for the Cataclysm detailed below.  In the original Chronicles, the Companions went their own ways to discover whether or not the True Gods returned to Krynn before reuniting at the Inn of the Last Home.  Kitiara's replacement might have journeyed alone, to the undersea ruins of Istar, the Glitterpalace, the restored Temple of Istar in Neraka, or some other location connected to the gods or the Cataclysm.  While there she discovered the role the Gods of Light (Paladine most notably) played in the Cataclysm and the 300 years of darkness and devastation which happened in its wake.

Upon learning that Takhisis restored the old temple and brought back clerical magic to the gathered pilgrims in Neraka, she listened to Ariakas' speeches.  Of how the Gods of Light abandoned the world and how Takhisis seeks to bring about the prior golden age of Istar back to Krynn.  Motivated by hatred of Paladine's senseless slaughter, witnessing the magic of clerics binding grievous wounds and eradicating disease, she saw the Dragon Empire as the last, best hope Ansaslon has to climb out of the Age of Despair and into a New Age of Might.

Playing up Emperor Ariakas

Emperor of Ansalon by Jess Easley

Dullcet Ariakas was chosen as the Dark Queen's personal emissary on Krynn.  It was he who commanded the Dragonarmies, recreated the Flying Citadel, and whose military victories were vital to the Empire's expansion across Krynn.  All five Dragon Highlords owe fealty to him, at least on the surface, and by extension Takhisis.

However, his screen-time in both the books and adventures is minimal.  He shows up during the final chapter of Dragons of Winter arc, Dragons of Deceit, and even then he's more of a background element or optional encounter.  The PCs have a chance to directly confront him in Dragons of Triumph with one of the three selected endings in a climactic battle.  But when it comes to the face of the enemy in the Chronicles, that role falls to Verminaard during the Dragons of Autumn arc and mostly Kitiara during Dragons of Spring.

As described in this RPGnet thread, Ariakas was a "critically important bit character," a person who doesn't even have much in the way of official artwork (the only other official piece I found of him had him in a rather undignified pose pinned down by Tanis' foot).

Although there are several popular works of fiction where the evil emperor is overshadowed by other villains (Star Wars, Final Fantasy VI), it still feels odd that Ariakas doesn't even get so much as a mention earlier on in the adventure series, and depending on the characterization of the Kitiara replacement he may very well end up being the major bad guy of the campaign.  Such a figure deserves more of a build-up over time.

Cut Scenes: Consider the use of cut-scenes, where the action jumps away from the PCs to the heart of the Empire.  For better interactivity, you might consider having one of the players control the Kitiara Replacement in their dealings with the Empire's leaders.  This allows the players at the table to get a better look at the main villain even if their PCs do not.

Rumors: Have Ariakas' name pop up several times over the course of the Chronicles.  Even better, assign him titles and rumors in line with his vaunted nature: have the Solamnic Knights and Elves call him the Hammer of Krynn, an epithet comparing him to the Cataclysm in the destruction he wrought.  Have people in occupied territories speak of how he turned an assassin in Sanction to dust with but a pointing gesture.  Dragonarmy officers and dark pilgrims of Takhisis speak fondly of his speeches in Neraka's old Colosseum.  Consider scattering autobiographical propaganda books written by the Emperor among the treasures of Dragonarmy soldiers, telling his ascent from a poor boy with an abusive father to his pilgrimage to the old temple of Neraka, and how it's due to the Dark Queen's gift that he can wield magic.

The Cataclysm

Interior artwork from Holy Orders of the Stars

The Cataclysm is the elephant in the room of Dragonlance morality.  Although the themes of good and evil are an element in Dungeons & Dragons, in Dragonlance Chronicles they are huge themes.  As the alignment system is intermixed with morality, and often changes definitions over the decades as new Editions come about, Dragonlance is often subject to the common problems and arguments.  But in several cases they are exemplified, most notably in the case of the Cataclysm.

For those not in the know, one of the largest empires of the setting was Istar, an increasingly repressive theocracy whose Kingpriest wished to wipe the world of evil.  This ended up turning the empire into a tyranny: races deemed "evil" or incompatible with Istaran norms were exterminated or enslaved (including a bounty on kender), and even neutral-aligned religions were deemed to bear the shadow of darkness and outlawed.

The Kingpriest felt that he could challenge Paladine himself, who he viewed as weak in "permitting evil to thrive."

There's no doubt that Istar was repressive and the result of much suffering, and the Legends of the Twins sourcebook indicates an alternate reality where the Kingpriest was successful in his bid for godhood.  This has terrible implications: one out of three living beings upon Krynn would die from the onslaught of magical energy upon his ascension, and Paladine would be bound in a spiritual cage as the Kingpriest became a living avatar of divine power.

But in the main timeline, after several failed warnings and assassination attempts, the gods decided to send a "fiery mountain" crashing down upon Istar's capital.  This resulted in a significant portion of the eastern continent to fall under the waves as the land was rent asunder.  The gods then left the world for 350 years, as mortals put their faith in a flawed and tyrannical mortal instead of them, and so began the Age of Despair as the land of Ansalon fell into suffering and woe.

The Cataclysm in Canon: So that's the official explanation.  Naturally it doesn't sit well with many gamers, and there's some internal inconsistencies.

One, is the dilemma of widespread destruction.  One of my players once described the Cataclysm as "understandable, but still evil in the grand scheme of things."  Yes Istar's rule was terrible and the gods may very well had no choice but to resort to something so drastic, but the fact of the matter is that it's consigning millions of people to death and suffering, and not just the land who fell under the waves from the meteor.  The Cataclysm affected geography and weather patterns all across the planet of Krynn, including Ergoth which was split in two.

Two, one of the underlying plot arcs of the original Chronicles is that the gods did not leave the world, that mortals left them instead.  This may very well be true for Istar, yet the setting makes reference to races and communities still loyal, who even in absence still wait for their return.  The dwarves kept the temple forges glowing even in the absence of their patron creator.  As it's expected that one of the PCs will be the Prophet who reveals the return of the non-evil gods to Ansalon's people, this is undoubtedly an issue which will come up.

Three, Dragonlance has a concept known as the Balance where too much Good or Evil is equally harmful.  To show this, the side of Good isn't so "good."  The Empire of Istar, in spite of its many purges and forms of oppression, was in fact a good-aligned regime, and the Kingpriest's canon alignment is Lawful Good.  A similar trend can be seen among the Qualinesti and Silvanesti elves, who if they were anything other than elves would most likely get saddled with the Evil alignment.  This ends up in a case where the neutral deities are the most admirable, whose tenets of free will is something a lot of gamers might find compelling other than the oppressive authoritarianism of Light and Darkness.

An Alternative Cataclysm: the Retreat

So right now I've been working on a variant.  This one presents the Cataclysm as more muddied and presents the changing point in Krynn's history not as a unanimous decision among the divine, but a fraught and troubled action which ultimately questioned their role in the world.  I still want to keep as much of the themes of the adventure path intact, and provide an incentive to view the return of the Gods of Light as ultimately a good thing.  This alternate is meant to inject a murkier sense of justice in the gods' decisions, as well as providing impetus for the Dragon Empire's popularity in resentment against the old gods for the Age of Despair.  At the same time, I wanted to give an explanation for why the Gods of Light and Balance aren't taking a more active hand in combating Takhisis' Empire.  There is strong indication that the Nerakans of the Taman Busuk region are the descendants of old Istar due to a shared alphabet, and swooping in as powerful avatars to stop the Dragonarmy would bear too much similarity to what they did with the Kingpriest.

Without further ado, the Cataclysm and the Retreat.

The Kingpriest of Istar at the height of its power had a government, clergy, and populace who felt that they what they were doing was right and just.  The doubters and opportunists existed, but they quelled their hypocrisies with rationalizations and double-think.  What was once a bastion of Good set by Paladine’s examples strayed into the path of Evil.  Slaves working the fields and condemned to blood sport in the Colosseum, ethnic cleansing of races and cultures deemed to be ‘inherently evil,’ religious persecution of benevolent religious orders, and the attempted ascension to godhood himself, the Kingpriest’s regime could not be Good except under the most warped of moral thinking.

Zivilyn, God of Wisdom, saw that if this continued, Paladine himself would be enslaved by an elaborate magical ritual with the Kingpriest as the most powerful being in the cosmos.  This catastrophe will result in one out of three living beings on Krynn to die, from the smallest blade of grass to the longest-lived dragon.  Ansalon would look like a graveyard world, entire sections of once-fertile plains turned into dusty fields made from the dead flesh of the once-lived.

The Gods of Light sent down many signs, but the damage was too far gone.  Even when Paladine himself manifested as the Platinum Dragon in the empire’s capital and denounced the many crimes of the Kingpriest, the clergy convinced the citizens that this was trickery by the forces of evil.  Divine portents went ignored, the true good-aligned remaining clerics hunted down and jailed, and Istar entered into an inescapable descent into depravity.  Even the death of the Kingpriest would only allow for another corrupt lord to ascend his throne, and there came a time that in order to prevent an apocalypse, the deities of Krynn had to take action in a way which sent a message that the people had no choice to ignore.

A meteor in the shape of a divine hammer crashed down onto Istar’s capital, sending entire regions of eastern Ansalon plunging into the sea as millions died.  This was far less than the loss of life and suffering than if the Kingpriest ascended, but even then the reverberations of Paladine’s brand of justice did not go unquestioned, even by his fellow Gods of Light.

The Cataclysm and its impending actions were debated and argued before, during, and after the devastation it wrought, with each deity having their own reasons and ethos for its justice or injustice.  Even those who felt it was necessary still reeled at its implications.

“The role of a deity is to be a teacher, not a tyrant,” said Mishakal, Goddess of Community and Love.  “Our edicts are so that mortals can see how our wisdom can make them help themselves and others.  Should mortals follow our laws out of fear of punishment and not genuine devotion, then we have failed them.”

"If we continue to rule Krynn’s spiritual sphere after the Cataclysm, we would be worshiped out of fear," added Zivilyn, God of Wisdom.  "Our dogma followed out of placating overwhelming powers with the specter of a second Cataclysm hanging over them forevermore.  Better to retreat from the world and make the deities of Darkness do the same; better to be cursed and vindicated by mortals who feel abandoned than supposedly devoted ones screaming prayers to the heavens no different than pleas for mercy to vengeful gods. Otherwise we’d be no different than the Kingpriest, or Takhisis."

And so the Age of Despair began as the Gods voluntarily left the world.

Takhisis and the other Gods of Darkness were staunch supporters of the Cataclysm, long hating how Istar's reign saw their minions and plots destroyed time and time again.  Even though Takhisis wormed her way into the hearts of foul-hearted priests clothed in the vestments of Paladine during the reign, she much preferred to rule openly and saw the devastation wrought as a fertile ground for power.

The people of Krynn cried out for the Gods' help, doing all sorts of things to try and earn their favor.  Religious turmoil was at an all-time high as people tried praying to new gods, including ones they made up to give new meaning to their lives and reinterpretations of the old pantheon without clerics to commune with the divine.  And many people cursed the gods, who felt that they did not deserve this fate, from Istaran survivors who felt betrayed for their devotion and former enemies of the Empire who could not understand why they suffered as well.

And so the gods watched.  Takhisis found a way to reenter Krynn without the watchful gaze of the Gods of Light and Balance noticing.  She transported the old temple of Istar from beneath the Blood Sea and transported it to Neraka.  The people here were the descendants of the Istarans who fled to the mountains for safety as the torrential waters rose over their old lands; this new temple drew many pilgrims to it, and some of the more learned recognized the design as the old empire of their forebears.  From goblins to dragons to humans, more and more people flocked to Neraka, some of them hearing the voice of the Five-Headed Dragon herself.  They knew that there was a goddess who could answer their prayers, a goddess who sought renewal and order, a goddess who could help end the Age of Despair and bring a new Age of Might to the land.

The Dragon Empire made massive inroads in its first twenty years of existence.  Aided by dragonfire and clerical magic they invested their power and resources into consolidating control of the mountains and earning the loyalty of outlying provinces.  Most nations who came into contact with them quickly learned to fear them, and the metallic dragons could not intervene due to unknown reasons.  The Black Robes of High Sorcery quickly cast their lot in with the Empire once they saw its nascent rise.  The Red Robes cared little for an outside world which hated their kind, preferring to study magic for the sake of it.  As for the White Robes, their ability to do good was limited by distrust in most lands of Ansalon.

Every year in the Age of Despair took its toll, and although bound by agreement Mishakal felt a sense of failure.  She failed every time she refused to whisper to a crying child at the bedside of her dying parents; she could use her soothing words to know that death is only a greater step in the journey along the River of Souls.  She failed every time she let a promising doctor whose heart was full of compassion get overwhelmed by the cruelties of the world.  She failed every time she did not bestow divine grace upon the worthy, so that fewer souls might suffer in Despair.

Mishakal never forgot the Cataclysm, never forgot the words of Zivilyn and how with but a single action they could inadvertently send mortals down the wrong path, like what happened with Istar.  But as she saw the hand of Takhisis moving, the battlefields of slaughtered dead, and the Empire's calling upon the glory days of Istar led by a sorcerous ruler who wore the same crown as the Kingpriest, she could sit by no more.

Paladine used overwhelming divine power to end Istar's evil, only to bring more of it into the world.  She would follow another path in line with her role as healer and provider.  Her influence on Krynn would be subtle, yet beneficial.  And so she entered the dreams of a mortal in Abanasinia, showing them the location of the Blue Crystal Staff and Disks of Mishakal in Xak Tsaroth, so that her word may spread once again to the peoples of Krynn.

Next time we'll be covering Dragons of Autumn proper, specifically Dragons of Despair and Flame.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Reblog: Anarchist Towns by AnarchyDice

The anarcho-syndicalist flag with the Circle A superimposed over it, the latter originating from the International Worker's Association

So via Tenkar's Tavern I found a link to an interesting blog.  Anarchy Dice is available as both a blogspot and now as its own website.








I'll be sure to update the list over time when new posts come in.

One of the interesting features I found was a series of posts about anarchist settlements in a D&D world, and what kinds of interesting features they may have for traveling adventures.  The blogger asserts that the common pop culture conception of anarchism as "strong rule the weak, no rules for anyone" is an inaccurate perception which a lot of RPGs propagate.  Eclipse Phase is a very notable exception.  The author himself is of the anarcho-capitalist grain, but acknowledges the different sub-sections of ideology and attempts to write up examples in a respectful way.  I generally don't talk about political stuff on this blog, but I may make exceptions in regards to how they can be used for a better gaming experience and trends in gamer culture.

Origins of Anarchism

The original ideology of anarchism was formulated in the 1800s which viewed the State (be it a government, monarchy, or company town) as an oppressive system which created a hierarchy of haves and have-nots.  The ideal society for anarchists would be voluntary associations of people bereft of such systems.  The earliest known themes are dated in the writings of the Taoist philosopher Laozi, but anarchism in its modern form sprang from Enlightenment thinking and the political turmoil of Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.  Far from a fringe group, by the late 1800s anarchists were a force to be reckoned with in Europe.  The ideology had popular followings in worker's unions, and political activism helped normalize the 8 hour workday in the Western world.

The bomb-throwing stereotype came due to anarcho-nihilist militants bombing noble estates in Russia, plus violent clashes with the police in the US and Western Europe over worker's rights and wages.  The Haymarket Affair is probably the most famous example of this.

And this is where it gets interesting: over the past century and a half, you ended up with varying strains of anarchist thought on how to best achieve an ideal society and fight the State.  You had anarcho-communists, who advocated for the abolition of the State and capitalist businesses in favor of common ownership over the means of production.  You had anarcho-syndicalism, which held similar anti-capitalist leanings, but who focused mainly on the creation of democratic trade unions.  Then you had anarcho-capitalists, who are the odd man out in that the original anarchists were strongly anti-capitalist in a time when robber barons, child labor, and debtor's prisons predominated.  And that's not covering the more obscure derivations, such as Christian anarchism which recognizes only the word of God and no human government as legitimate authority.

Apologies for the monologue, but in spite of not being an anarchist I overall find it to be a very interesting ideology, and I think that this understanding can be useful to get a better sense of the blog posts instead of diving in unawares.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Review: Dungeon Bastards

Note: For transparency measures, I received a complementary copy from the author for review purposes.  If you hang out at the Something Awful Trad Games forums, you might know him as Covok.

The meta concept of an "adventuring society" has not gone unnoticed in the realms of parody and satire.  The Red Dragon Inn focuses on the inns and taverns where dungeon-delvers gather and their drunken hijinks, Recettear focuses on the life of an item shop owner digging her way out of debt, and the sample game in RPG Maker detailed the life of a monster goblin who sought to become a proper Boss.

Dungeon Bastards is a rules-lite table-top RPG which follows a similar path.  The focus of the game is on a group of sociopathic and probably inebriated adventurers back in town and up to no good.  It emphasizes poorly thought out shenanigans and belligerent conflicts.  Think of the Rat Queens comic and you're probably close to the mark.

The writing style is intentionally vulgar in imitation of the play style:

You play Dungeon Bastards by sitting around with friends and bullshitting about being cool people. The Losers play their self-insert fantasies while that Dickbag plays the fucked up world they live in and the shitbags they share it with.

There are also Skills. They are the shit you don’t suck at. Don’t be a nerd and put things like Knowledge (History). Pfft! Nah, man, put shit down like Getting Crunk or Smashing Faces.

There are quite a few products which are written this way in an attempt to be edgy, most notably more than a few in-character White Wolf stories and such.  I feel that its success can vary wildly depending on the reader: it's done more for humor's sake as opposed for a "shit sucks" grimdark narrative, although in this case I feel that it works in that the PCs are intended to be macho adventurers with more bark than brains, so the text comes off as how they'd actually talk in-game.

The Rules

Dungeon Bastards uses six-sided dice for its resolution system.  There are Moves in the game which trigger depending on the enfolding scenarios (sort of like Apocalypse World system) and you roll a number of dice depending on your Stats and relevant Skills (which add two extra dice when they come into play).  Every 5 on a die counts as one success, every 6 two successes.  Competitive Moves have people subtract their successes from their opponents before resolving it, while passive Moves require 1 to 4 successes depending on their difficulty.  There are four Stats and are relatively all-encompassing, including Brains, Fists, Guts, and Mouth, and correspond to the abilities you imagine them to.

The Moves

Be it fighting, getting high, bullshitting someone, or even getting hurt, the Basic Moves are more or less universal for the scenarios for this type of game and provide a good format for expanding beyond.  When you gain successes, you can spend them as points to gain additional benefits in narrating the scene.  For example:

Fuck All Y'All!

Passive Mouth

When you sit down and chat with some dweebs, roll Mouth passively. Spend your successes to narrate the following throught the scene.
• They agree with some of your stupid opinions.
• They begin to respect you.
• They begin to hate someone you want them to hate.
• They feel better about their fucking selves.
• They feel worse about their fucking selves.
...until you spend all your successes or are satisfied with the result.

Spend successes for bonus stuff.  It's a fine idea, but some moves have narrations which are better than others.

Time To Beat Some Ass

Passive Fists

When you beat the shit out of some punks, roll Fists passively. Spend your
successes to narrate the following throughout the scene:
• You kick all their heads in.
• None of them get away.
• The whole thing makes them look like little wimps.
• They don't even touch you.
• You keep one as a prisoner.
...until you spend all your successes or are satisfied with the results.

If none of them get away, wouldn't this practically allow you to take one or more of them as a prisoner?  I assume that the idea is that without the prisoner narration, they'll be too beaten/dead to be of use for whatever you want them for or you have to flee the scene due to the city watch, but I can see some groups raising this in play.  "But I took them all out single-handedly?!  Why can't we just pick one up and haul 'em off?!"

So, what happens when you roll poorly and things don't go so well?  That's where BULLSHIT comes in.  The Bullshit Meter serves as a player character's health, and represents accumulated humiliation, exhaustion, and injury over time.  When the Meter gets full and they fail again, they either die or "say fuck this and leave the group like a little wimp."  Either way, they're out of the game and the player needs to create a new character.

Or they can permanently decrease the Stat of their choice by one and reduce their Bullshit Meter by one.  However, this can only be done once it's full to avoid PC loss, so it prevents casual use of Stat drain as a "healing" option.

Thoughts: The resolution system is quite simple, with no real variance and a reliance on narrating things out instead of setting benchmarks.  This works very well for the beer-and-pretzels game Dungeon Bastards is going for.

Character Creation, Dickbag, and Conversation Starters

Beyond the simple name, you assign a 3, 4, 5, and 6 to the Stats of your choice, and write down 3 Skills.

The player writes their objective they want to perform while in town, and then they pass their character sheet off to the player on their left, where they write down how they feel about that character and how they met.

The Dickbag is the Game Master in Dungeon Bastards, and this section has the typical advice for running the game.  It's rather simple, but beyond the obvious (give stats only to people who matter, don't be creepy or engage in power fantasies, etc), it explains that one Move should equal one scene so that the game isn't bogged down in die rolls, and to try for an even mix of tasks so nobody feels left out.  Also, PCs who get the same number of successes end up at a stalemate (Well, It Could Have Gone Worse) and nobody takes a hit to the Bullshit Meter.

Conversation Starters is an adventure generation table.  As the game only uses d6s, two six-sided die are rolled, one represent the tens digit and the other the ones digit.  You still get 36 results from this, and range from the petty ("An army is laying over in town and taking all the beer! This can't stand!") to the more standard adventure scenarios ("An Elder God has tracked you down for revenge. Fucker is a killer at parties.")

Dungeon Bastards ends with a sample character sheet, a picture of a drunkard getting hauled off as he says "Now Go and Play Already!" and a back-cover blurb.

Final Thoughts: Dungeon Bastards is a short and easy to learn pick-me-up game with an interesting idea.  It's cheap enough that price isn't much of a concern, either, and the spin on the "muderhobo" stereotype of adventurers is something many players are well-acquainted with that they can easily imagine the type of game it encourages.

If you're interested it's for sale on Drive-Thru RPG and RPGNow for $2.50.

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.

Scarlet Heroes Homebrew: New Blademaster School, the Smoking Serpentine

The advent of firearms technology was a game-changer on the field of battle.  Its penetrative power against armor and faster training time than longbows made it easy to field peasant militias who could deliver devastating artillery in war.  Cannons replicated the devastating power wielded by magic-users, at the expense of storing volatile gunpowder in large amounts to work.  As the great empires of the world sought to journey beyond their home continent to unknown waters beyond, a new kind of adventurer quickly entered the scene: the privateer.

Tales of riches, global hegemony, and the desire to start a new society far from Old World, and the pursuit of knowledge fueled legions of ships to set sail for the islands at the edges of the known world.  Dangerous monsters and rival colonists facilitated need for ships of well-armed sailors and soldiers for defense, and the tropical climate and constant tilting of seabound vessels made heavy armor impractical.  The adventurers of these lands fought not with plate mail and axes, but with black powder and cutlasses.

Guns are a controversial aspect in Dungeons & Dragons, and those groups that do use them have many different rules facilitating their use.  This homebrew school was designed in mind with Age of Exploration firearms, the kind which are typically fired once during a battle before switching to another or closing in for melee.  I found the "once per fight/day" schematic to work very well with this, representing the often deadly uses for firearms in spite of their hindrances.

I utilized game mechanics from Scarlet Throne and Thrashing Dragon disciplines from Path of War, as well as the guidelines for making new Blademaster Arts and Schools in The Sandbox #2.  Regarding the school's name, in 14th century Europe a type of gunpowder used for cannons was called Serpentine due to its resemblance to hellfire and thus Satan.  The Devil is given snake-like characteristics in various forms of Christianity.  I figured that this would be a cool name for a homebrew fighting style.

School of Smoking Serpentine

The Smoking Serpentine is named after the serpentine fuel used for primitive cannons, and was mastered by a pirate lord who incorporated a mix of swordplay and firearms training to devastating effect in battle.  The fighting style was taught to other pirates, and in turn was copied by other martial disciples watching them in battle.

Mysteries of the Smoking Serpentine

Students of the Smoking Serpentine learn to take very good care of guns in their possession.  Firearms will not jam or break as long as they're wielded by them, and environmental conditions such as total immersion in water or rainstorms will not cause the weapon's mechanisms or gunpowder to be ruined or ignite.  If necessary, this can be explained as waterproof cartridges and pouches sewn from the hides of fire-resistant monsters.

Adepts of the Smoking Serpentine develop a certain dashing quality which seems to get them out of trouble more often than not.  They treat their Charisma score as 4 points higher (effective maximum 18) for the purposes of social interactions.

Masters of the Smoking Serpentine learn how to create a long-lasting chemical agent to deploy in battle.  Once per day they can replicate the effects of a Wall of Fire spell, although it is non-magical and the concentration for its duration is represented by the blademaster feeding the flames.

Arts of the Smoking Serpentine

Level One

Blade Bind
Instant  Once Per Fight

If an opponent fails to hit the blademaster with a melee attack, the blademaster maneuvers so that the strong portion of his weapon is pressing against the weaker portion of his opponent's weapon.  Said opponent cannot maneuver out of melee range without suffering a free attack from the blademaster (said free attack costs no action to use), but as long as the Blade Bind is kept neither opponent can move out of range or attack another opponent due to the concentration involved in keeping the bind.

Fire and Steel
Instant  Constant

The blademaster learns to be fast with his hands so as to adapt quickly to changing circumstances.  He can fight with a pistol in one hand and a one-handed weapon in the other at no penalty, and freely sheathe and withdraw either during the course of an action should a free hand be required for a task.

Hindering Strike
Action  Once Per Fight

The blademaster confounds an opponent in addition to damaging them.  On a successful attack the blademaster may opt to automatically disarm an opponent of their weapon or another worn item such as a pouch, belt buckle, hat, or other removable item (GM's discretion).  The blademaster can also choose to trip and knock prone their opponent instead of a disarm.

Powerful Shot
Action  Once Per Day

Due to the long reloading times of most firearms, the blademaster learns to make his only shot count.  The blademaster makes an attack roll with a firearm, and on a successful hit he deals an additional 2d6 points of damage in addition to the base weapon damage.

Level Two

Duck and Weave
Instant  Once Per Fight

The blademaster knows that a moving target is hard to hit, especially when going through friendly targets and behind environmental obstacles.  As long as the blademaster moves at least half his movement speed before making an attack, he gains a +4 bonus on her attack roll.  If he ends his movement in a space next to an enemy target, a piece of furniture, or another object which can reasonably prove a hindrance, he gains a -4 bonus to his Armor Class on attacks made against him.

Experimental Alchemy
Instant  Constant

The blademaster's study and handling of black powder grants insight into alternative fuel sources for his firearms.  At the start of each day the blademaster may load elemental powder into his firearms.  These firearms suffer a -2 penalty to hit, but their damage is treated as a certain common energy type (cold, fire, electricity, or other elemental damage forms in your Edition/retro-clone) for the purposes of attacks.  This also applies to any Arts or Mysteries of this School which utilize firearms or explosives.

Shoot and Slice
Action  Once Per Fight

The blademaster makes a melee attack against an opponent while using a pistol to shoot a nearby opponent within the first range increment of the weapon.  This is resolved as a single attack roll and the results are compared to the Armor Class of two different opponents; damage is rolled separately for each.

Shrapnel Blast
Action  Once Per Day

The blademaster loads their firearm with glass shards, shell fragments, and other sharp pieces into their firearm instead of normal bullets.  When fired, the attack is resolved as an area of effect attack in the shape of a 20 foot cone-shaped emanation.  Those within the burst radius must roll a saving throw or take the base weapon damage.

Level Three

Acrobatic Flair
Instant  Constant

When the blademaster fights, it is very hard for anyone to stand their ground.  The blademaster may move, attack an opponent, and move again up to their base movement speed as part of a round's worth of actions.  Additionally, any opponent he strikes has to move 10 feet in a direction of the opponent's choice if capable of doing so. This represents running for cover, trying to keep up with the blademaster, getting knocked back and tripped, and similar actions undertaken by the enemy.

Dazzling Flash
Action  Once Per Day

By appropriating fireworks intended for entertainment purposes, the blademaster can fire a bright flash of light as a 20 foot burst radius with a range increment of 30 feet.  Those within the radius must make a saving throw or take 2d6 damage, as well as being blinded for a number of rounds equal to the blademaster's level.

The Right Moment
Instant  Once Per Fight

The blademaster reads their opponent and reacts at the best possible time once they let their guard down.  The blademaster rolls their attack roll twice and keeps the better result.

Up Close and Personal
Action  Once Per Day

The blademaster makes a melee attack against their opponent.  If successful he discharges the contents of his firearm point-blank, dealing the damage of both weapons to the opponent.  This leaves a particularly painful gunshot wound, dealing 1d6 points of fire damage per round (or another damage type if using Experimental Alchemy), to a maximum number of rounds equal to the blademaster's level.

Level Four

Action  Once Per Day

The blademaster throws caution to the wind and brings his full fury to bear.  He performs 3 attack rolls against an enemy.  For every result which hits, he deals his base weapon damage plus 4d6 points per successful hit (meaning the maximum damage can be 12d6 plus triple the base weapon damage).  At the end of this attack, the blademaster suffers a +4 penalty to his Armor Class and can only move at half speed during their next round.  This attack can be made with multiple loaded firearms if desired.

Peerless Charm
Instant  Constant

The blademaster is now an iconic swashbuckler, one of the greatest legends to sail the seas.  Attacks made by opponents with six or less hit dice than the blademaster's level only deal the minimum possible result on damage dice against him.  He can also treat his attack roll die result as a 10 and his damage dice as the maximum possible result against such opponents.

Reckless Destruction
Action  Once Per Day

The blademaster outmaneuvers his opponents to such an extent that they have trouble striking who they want.  All opponents within 30 feet of the blademaster must make a saving throw or suffer as though under the Confusion spell for the remainder of combat or until the blademaster is taken out of the fight, whichever comes first.  Opponents with 3 hit dice or less are automatically confused and cannot attempt a saving throw.

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.