Thursday, April 13, 2017

Dragons of Renewal, DL6: Dragons of Ice



Dragons of Ice Cover by Larry Elmore

Note: The original DL5 was a setting overview of the world of Krynn before there was a full campaign setting. Since future up-to-date books adequately cover this ground, I "skipped" that sourcebook.

Dragons of Ice is the first appropriately-named chapter in the Winter arc, and also marks the splitting of the party as well as the inclusion of a DMPC for an appreciable segment of the campaign.

Overview

The PCs makes their way to the City of Tarsis, once a thriving port now a land-locked shanty due to the ravages of the Cataclysm. Looking for safe passages for the Abanasinian refugees, it becomes clear that Tarsis' port is of no use. Thus the must stay in Thorbadin and only an end to the wars will things return to normalcy. The party meets up with a detachment of the Knights of Solamnia seeking to research of ways to defeat the Dragonarmies. During this time the PCs learn of the Dragon Orbs in the hidden Library of Khrystann, and Tarsis falls under siege by the Blue Dragonarmies. Escaping with Derek Crownguard and the Solamnic Knights, the PCs flee the city and get word to head south to Icewall Glacier from an old couple advising them to follow "the path of the white bear."

While traveling south to Icewall Glacier, the PCs find and save a polar bear being tortured by minotaurs and camp out in a shipwreck during a storm. They are later found by a tribe of Ice Folk, who offers them hospitality and explain their recent troubles with thanoi (walrus-men) and minotaurs. If the PCs accompany them back to their village, Derek Crownguard shows the PCs a map of Ansalon. He explains that the free peoples of Krynn are gathering at the isle of Sancrist to discuss an organized resistance against the Dragon Empire. The White Dragonarmy attacks the Camp, and the PCs take part in mass combat. After the battle the Ice Folk seek vengeance at Icewall Castle, the headquarters of the White Dragonarmy.

After entering, the PCs have opportunities to discover a Dragonlance-bearing knight (now dead) encased in ice; fight the White Dragon Highlord Feal-Thas and recover his personal journals; and possibly discover the Dragon Orb guarded by his draconic mount Sleet in the lower reaches. Having dealt a great blow to the Dragonarmies, the PCs head to the nearby Ice Mountain Bay with grateful Ice Folk to find and unearth a sea-worthy vessel. Their trials over in southern Ansalon for the time being, the PCs take off for Sancrist only to encounter stormy conditions and possibly a dragon attack which leaves them shipwrecked.

Things to Change/Look Out For



Siege of Tarsis


Dragon Attack from Pathfinder: Burnt Offerings


Originally, the PCs' main headquarters in Tarsis is the Red Dragon Inn. Splitting up to investigate, the Winter team headed for the Library while the Spring team stayed behind. When the Blue Dragonarmy invades, the Spring team escapes thanks to the timely arrival of Alhana Starbreeze shortly after an aerial assault levels the Inn. In both teams' cases, the adventure encourages the PCs to flee the city.

This will be covered in Spring, but given that Alhana Starbreeze is literally a character they never met before and the PCs might be heroic types who don't want to abandon innocents, I propose a few changes.

First, have both Alhana Starbreeze and Derek Crownguard meet the Autumn PCs (along with any new PCs) before the adventure proper, using the Inn as a sort of informal "war room." That way nobody will be taken aback at an elf appearing out of nowhere demanding the PCs flee without their comrades.

Secondly, provide for a way for the Winter and Spring teams to let each other know that the other side is safe, or prepared drills beforehand in case of an invasion (which the adventure points to as likely given the mayor's appeasement to the Dragonarmies). In my campaign I had Khrystann's local chronicler, a gnome journalist of my own creation by the name of Widge Pathwarder deliver a message to the Spring team. Depending on the system you're using, and if using a smaller 4 person party, it's likely that the PCs have access to scrying magic at this point, too.

Thirdly, place an emphasis on evacuating civilians. Tarsis is unready for a full-on siege, but the PCs are likely to want to help in whatever way they can. The base adventure includes an encounter where the party can rescue an old couple from opportunistic looters, but otherwise most of the events do not provide opportunities for the PCs to feel like Big Damn Heroes. In my own campaign I included an encounter where the PCs had to break apart a Dragonarmy barrier in the middle of the street to free captured citizens. They also had the opportunity to help guide civilians into nearby sewer entrances while blue dragons rained lightning from the skies. I modified the kapak assassin encounter to occur in the tunnels with civilians below so that the PCs needed to play things smart (kapaks release a cloud of poison gas upon death).

Splitting the Party

Back in the Character Creation post I discussed this upcoming eventuality, but as of now there are some more things to add.

The original Chronicles party was a whopping 8 person band, and the addition of DMPCs over the adventures swells this number even further. Thus a party split in these circumstances is manageable. However, if your gaming group is a more reasonable 3 to 5 group, making new PCs is likely in order. For my own campaign the new PCs more or less comprised the Spring team, fellow folk who suffered losses at the Dragonarmy's hands. The Winter team was the original Autumn PCs. Granted, you may prefer a mixture of old and new PCs in each team, but for maximum role-play potential consider assigning PCs to one of two teams based on their backstories and character concepts:

Winter Team:

Solamnic Knight: This chivalrous order plays a huge part in the later adventures of this arc, and can make for some nice contrast with Derek Crownguard.

Kagonesti/Qualinesti Elf: The Qualinesti made a colony on the Isle of Sancrist, as did the Silvanesti. The two groups are on poor terms with the native Kagonesti.

Politician/Commander Types: From the Battle of the High Clerist Tower to the Whitestone Council, Dragons of Winter is full of opportunities for leaders of men to decide the fate of Krynn.

Dragonarmy Deserters/Turncoats: The final chapter in Winter involves infiltrating the heart of the Dragon Empire in its largest city. Naturally heroes with a connection to this fell bastion of evil will be invaluable.

Craftsmen/Artisans/Tinkers: Although the base adventure assumes that Theros Ironfeld will craft the Dragonlances once their secret is discovered in Foghaven Vale, this role can just as easily be filled by a PC, especially if they lost an arm at some point in the adventure. The proximity of Mount Nevermind in Sancrist can be a good place for a gnomish tinker to meet up with colleagues.

Spring Team:

Silvanesti Elf: The first chapter involves venturing into the nightmare landscape of Silvanesti with its princess to restore it to its former glory. Enough said.

Clerics and Religious Types: Ideal for both, but this adventure particularly explores the legacy of the Cataclysm in Dragons of Faith where the PCs explore the undersea ruins of Istar. In Dragons of Truth the PCs venture to the Glitterpalace where they may speak with the Gods of Light

Kender/Guerrilla Types: Virtually all of eastern Ansalon lies under the Dragon Empire's dominion, the kender of the Goodlund Peninsula and the Nightmare Lands of Silvanesti the only places more or less unclaimed but still suffering. Dragons of Shadow (3.5) or Faith (AD&D) extensively detail these environs, and may give the PCs opportunity to ally with the Silver Fox and make inroads against the Dragonarmies on their home turf.

Derek Crownguard



The follies and potential troubles of DMPCs have been discussed in many forums. But the other major thing to address is Derek Crownguard's personality. Although I haven't read this far into the novels, his personality is rather well-known for being perpetually hostile and unlikable. In the books he was constantly at odds with Sturm Brightblade and mostly on the quest for hopes of personal promotion by bringing the Dragon Orbs to the Whitestone Council. He's representative of an old and fallen knightly order more concerned with the letter than the spirit of the code; Sturm is the more moderate contrast who will eventually bring the Knights back to glory.

Naturally, one might ask why the PCs should bother at all with him. And that is indeed a good question. The simplest explanation is to dispense with him, having any existing knightly PCs assigned to Tarsis to research the Dragon Orbs. But in my own 13th Age campaign, I not only kept him, but altered his personality a bit. In combat he was more of a supplementary role, less a full NPC and more a "stunt tactic" or element the PCs can use to trigger combined assaults with and distractions. Personality-wise, I played him more as a slightly cantankerous yet well-meaning knight. the weight of the war and its stakes darkening his mood at times. He was still obsessed with the Dragon Orbs, viewing them as an ultimate trump card. The examples of the PC Paladin (who was also the role of Prophet) encouraged him to righteousness at the Battle of the High Clerist Tower, effectively becoming the leader of the Solamnic Knights during the war.

For those reasons, my own group did not mind him as much, but I can't say for sure if this will work for your own.


Incentive to Go South



Feal-Thas, White Dragon Highlord by JL Meyer

Both versions of Dragons of Ice use the old "wise elder with vague knowledge" trope to guide the PCs to Icewall Glacier. This, combined with Crownguard's revelation of Sancrist later at the Ice Folk Camp, makes the adventure feel extremely railroady due to the fact that the PCs are finding out the next location right after the other instead of a gradual organic planning. Even more so, the PCs might decide that heading to Sancrist is more important than the assault at Icewall Castle, which can be problematic.

For my own campaign, I baked the plot hook right into the adventure's first chapter: the texts within the Library of Khrystann not only revealed the history of the Dragon Orbs, but the revelation that long ago the Wizards of High Sorcery "went far south, to a land of snow and ice to hide them from the world due to their power." And contacts within the Knights of Solamnia revealed that the Dragonarmies were conducting an excavation in the Glacier itself, apparently searching for something.

I also made it so that Icewall Castle was actually close to the ocean, near the western section of the Glacier. The Castle had a harbor with sea-worthy boats, giving the PCs even more reason to go there for a proper boat to take to Sancrist.

In Conclusion

Dragons of Ice is an overall fair beginning to the Winter arc. It starts off with a bang as the city's besieged, includes a battle against the White Dragonarmy forces on the tundra, and climaxes with the discovery of a real Dragonlance to use against the dragon Sleet. Its weakest areas involve plot hooks and incentives, but hopefully this advice should shape this up into an even greater adventure!