Thursday, June 15, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL8: Dragons of War


Artwork from Legacy: War of Dragons MMORPG

Overview

This adventure revolves around the iconic Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, while also briefly covering the heroes journey from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas. Once they reach their destination they can make several pre-battle preparations, from exploring the tower locales (much of it remains unexplored due to the Knights regarding it as sacred) for defenses to shore up. The mass battle itself takes place in waves over a period of several days, and unlike the books it is very possible for the PCs to lose the Tower (and thus by extension Palanthas).

Things to Change/Look Out For



The Whitestone Council

Aside from the grandmaster of the Knights of Solamnia, there is surprisingly little interaction with the Whitestone forces and other folks before the battle. The default adventure has the recovered Dragon Orb presented to the Council, causing the factions to bicker among each other. In the book series this bickering is broken with the introduction of the Dragonlance, thrown by Theros Ironfeld throwing the legendary weapon into the Whitestone natural formation and splitting it in half.

Granted, the default scenes does not have much opportunity for the PCs to talk and interact with the various factions. It also assumes that the PCs reveal the existence of the Dragon Orb to the assembly, which my group wisely decided not to do.

I changed this around by having the PCs meet up with a war council while planning for the sailing to Palanthas. In addition to the base factions I had three major factions of Solamnians representing various groups: the Knights, unaffiliated lords, and self-governing peasant communes fed up with the former two. I also included White and Red Robes of High Sorcery, who were worried about the balance of Evil tipping too far. Although the forces were united, they all were looking beyond war's end and wanted various guarantees in exchange for their aid: Solamnic peasants wanted independence for their respective regions, Red and White Robes wanted more liberty and freeing of imprisoned mages in various realms, the Silvanesti wanted trade and supplies to help rebuild their realm, and so on and so forth.

Feel free to play this up as much or as little as befits your group. Barring complete catastrophe the Council should not dissolve, but this can be an opportunity for certain PCs to push for better deals for their favored nations and people. Due to previous adventures, light of their past accomplishments should carry weight while at the same time balanced against practicality and the needs of the other member nations.

The Journey to the Tower



Approaching the Tower of Nightlund (Palanthas) by Geoffryn of deviantart

The first chapter covers various regions and encounters the PCs can have along the way from Southern Ergoth to Palanthas, along with details of the city itself. Personally speaking most of the travel is filler and can be discarded, but the city of Palanthas bears special mention. Firstly, the local government is unconvinced the Dragonarmies will invade due to a signed non-aggression treaty and don't seek to contribute to the Tower's defenses. The garrison of Knights in the tower are on their own due to this. Additionally, there is mention made of the PCs visiting Mount Nevermind to have the gnomes examine their artifacts, although nothing really comes of this plot-wise.

Alterations to the adventure can be made as thus: give the PCs the opportunity to prove to the otherwise neutral Palanthian government of the Dragonarmy's treachery. Or use trickery themselves to do so (Jester-David's group used illusionary dragons to fly over the city, although their plan failed). Additionally, a side trip to Mount Nevermind might grant additional gnomish reinforcements in the Battle for the High Clerist's Tower, if only for "research purposes" on seeing any Dragonlances or Dragon Orbs in action.


The High Clerist's Tower, Exploration




The High Clerist Tower portion of the adventure is more or less a dungeon crawl. In both versions of the module I found that the vast majority of rooms were empty, so I had the battle coincide with the PCs exploring the Tower by finding/activating its various defenses. I'd switch between encounters with the PCs and back to the mass battle forces. I felt that this helped simulate the speed and chaos of war.

If using this encounter-based crunch: I'd focus on the following rooms (it can be assumed that the PCs make their way between them off-screen): 32 Dragon Trap (for activating the Orb), 45 Battleground, 62 Eternal Halls (populated with monsters from other rooms, have treasury room as reward), 77 Khas Room (for possible ghostly ally). If you feel that you need more encounters, perhaps add a featureless hallway or tower or two with wraiths, invading Dragonarmy soldiers, traps, and other obstacles.

Another thing of note is that the Tower has a second Dragon Orb inside it. The game mechanic reasons is in case the PCs failed to find the Orb at Icewall Castle. Personally speaking I got rid of this second one in my own game. The Dragon Orbs are meant to be rare artifacts scattered to the four winds, and its location here is far too convenient. Beyond this, if you use the blog notes I wrote for the Dragons of Ice adventure then your own PCs should not miss that quest's Dragon Orb.

Siege Events and Complications

The default adventure has a series of events which happen around the tower before and during the siege. There are not too many special considerations to make other than one. A few days before the final assault, a high-ranking Dragonarmy soldier Vindar of Khurman will approach the tower, calling the name of a knight to engage him in single combat. Said knight is but a young man fresh out of squiredom and thus not a match for Vindar. A PC can take his place, although the circumstances of the situation mean that the honorable option is a one-on-one fight. Vindar is a classed Fighter with a magical sword capable of restoring hit points dealt as damage in a vampiric fashion.

Most D&D games and retroclones do not balance encounters for 1 PC. For that reason the fight can wildly vary in difficulty, and if gone on for too long the other players may get bored sitting around. The adventure suggests that Vindar has yet to lose a fight and as thus will underestimate the PC's capabilities. Generally speaking you should have Vindar be reworked so that he is overall weaker than an individual PC, the kind they would reliably take on their own in a larger battle versus multiple forces.

Another thing to consider is that unless the battle takes place in a single day, the PCs might wish to head out into the enemy encampment via stealth and assassinate Dragonarmy leaders. The adventure does not take this into consideration, assuming that the PCs will stand charge on the wall. But with spells like invisibility sphere, teleport, summons, and other high-level sorcery, getting past mundane soldiers should be trivial.

One option would be to allow this: the army isn't going to retreat given how the chain of command works, but killing off the most competent leaders is definitely worth a significant bonus for the mass combat system battles. Additionally, the Dragonarmy encampments should be home to undead, spellcasting bozak draconians and an aurak or two, along with blue dragons who in Pathfinder have insanely high Perception checks.

Silvara & the Temptation of the Dragon Orb



If you ran through DL9: Dragons of Dreams, then it's likely that the players got a strong impression of the Dragon Orb's power and what can happen if used in desperation. Its primary use in the adventure is to be placed in a special room in the High Clerist's Tower. Once activated, it will mentally compel the blue dragons to fly inside cramped corridors in the tower which could immobilize them via the use of iron portcullis as well as a herring bone pattern (where it's easy to get in but hard to get out). Aside from this, there are no real negative consequences for using the Dragon Orb in this adventure.

Personally, I made a few changes in my own game. One, I altered the traps to contain a series of adamantine guillotines. This changed little aside from aesthetic value, in that I did not make my PCs attack and kill trapped dragons. Secondly, I had it so that the Dragon Orb also affected Silvara. Although she was strong-willled enough to not fly into the trap, it was enough to compel her to take draconic form during the battle.

As a result of this, evidence of a silver dragon fighting alongside the Solamnic army was clear as day. The Dragon Empire's many messengers and Black Robe mages passed word back to Neraka of this development. After the battle was won, Silvara was still extremely worried, for a cleric of Takhisis came to deliver a message from Emperor Ariakas himself. Speaking through the priest directly via powerful magic, Ariakas demanded the surrender of the silver dragon along with the giving up of the Tower. The sounds of eggs being squashed in the background could be heard, and Ariakas continued that "more would die for every day that passes without capitulation."

This tied well into the following adventure, DL8: Dragons of Deceit. In that one, Silvara explains to the party that she must take them to Sanction to uncover the Dragonarmies' greatest secret. She is tight-lipped about the nature of the mission, and the use of good dragon eggs to make draconians is revealed only later and directly. The default hook is rather vague, but the plot circumstances of my game served the two-fold purpose of granting an obvious hook as well as making the party detest Ariakas even more. It also kept in line with the inherently dangerous nature of the Dragon Orbs.

Alternatively in your games, Silvara may still take her true form. Perhaps the tide of battle is threatening to turn, and acting rashly she turns into a dragon to level the playing field.

Mass Combat



Dragonlance is no stranger to wargaming, and the original AD&D adventure came complete with a self-contained Battlesystem ruleset. The 3.5 adventure contains no such rules, instead noting that there are many mass battle rulesets on the market today and to use your favorite. Both adventures gave a breakdown of troops and units on both sides of the conflict for best simulating this.

I have no experience with Battlesystem or warming in general, so I used a homebrew creation. An important thing to consider is that whatever set of rules you use to not spring it on the players suddenly. Instead post or link them the necessary material so they can familiarize themselves with the rules ahead of time. Not all players can quickly adapt and digest new rules on the spot.

As for my homebrew, I had it as a simple 1d20 resolution system. Each army had "hits" representing how many attacks they can weather before dispersing or being slaughtered. When one unit came into conflict with another, both sides would roll 1d20. A unit with a superior advantage (higher ground, superior defensive holdings, etc) added +4 to their roll. The loser would take one "hit" as a result.

Regardless of the rules system you use, here are some general tactics:

  • The PCs' forces have an ultimately defensive position. Their mission is to prevent the Blue Dragonarmy from taking hold of the High Clerist Tower and thus the route to Palanthas.
  • Generally speaking the Blue Dragonarmy will send in expendable units to test the Tower's defenses. Kobold skirmishers are perfect for this.
  • In-game events the party does (gain the aid of Yarus' ghosts, the use of the Dragon Orb to utilize the dragon deathtrap, etc) should affect certain powerful units in the field. Be it removing them from play or adding them as new forces.
  • Sample ally forces for PCs should include Knights of the Crown (higher defense/health), Knights of the Sword (offense), Knights of the Rose (grants boons/bonuses to allies due to leadership qualities), Peasant Militia (weak units, high numbers), White/Red Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), Gnomish Experimental Siege Weapons (very powerful but random effects), Ghostly Allies (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
  • Sample Dragonarmy forces should include Kobold Skirmishers (weak units, high numbers) Baaz Infantry (offense), Kapak Archers (ranged capabilities), Black Robe Wizards (ranged capabilities, possible special powers), undead soldiers (high defense/health), Blue Dragons (can move effortlessly through any terrain, powerful unit).
Closing Thoughts

The Battle of the High Clerist Tower, much like in the book series, is a pivotal moment in the Dragonlance Chronicles. The events should feel fast-paced, the stakes high, and the battles seemingly constant and never-ending (from a thematic standpoint, not actual endless encounters). The journey to the tower along with dungeon-crawling should be de-emphasized in favor of a few core events.

Next time we'll wrap up the Winter saga with Dragons of Deceit, where the party infiltrates the City of Sanction and frees the metallic dragon eggs from the forces of evil!