Sunday, August 27, 2017

Dragons of Renewal DL9: Dragons of Deceit

by Larry Elmore


After recuperating from the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower, the party is approached by D'argent/Silvara in her disguised form. She tells them that they must head out to the city of Sanction in the heart of Takhisis' empire. The key to the good dragons' Oath of Neutrality is there, and if successful can help bring them into the war against the Dragonarmies. Silvara is tight-lipped about the specifics, not letting up about the nature of the draconians' creation until the PCs see for themselves. The party has a choice of going by sea or by land, both paths with their own encounters along the way.

Whether by imprisonment or infiltration, the party has the opportunity to find out the truth in the Temple of Luerkhesis where a Black Robe wizard, a cleric of Takhisis, and a red dragon conduct a ritual to transform metallic dragon eggs into draconian spawn. The PCs may encounter the Shadowpeople, a secretive race living beneath the city who can aid their escape as the draconian chamber sets off magical alarms to send a group of soldiers to kill the intruders. If the PCs escape into the shadowpeople chambers, they'll be teleported to the hidden island where the metallic dragons live. Once informed of the Dragonarmy's true use of their children, the Oath of Neutrality is broken and they fly south with the heroes to Palanthas to lend their aid to the forces of Good. The PCs will have opportunity to ride on their backs with Dragonlances in tow during an assault on the city of Sanction.

Victorous, there is only the final city of Neraka to conquer, where the two once-split parties of Winter and Spring unite for one last battle against the forces of evil!

Things to Change/Look Out For

D'argent/Silvara: Interestingly, the AD&D version of the module suggests handing over control and accommodating backstory notes of the silver dragon to a player as a one-time thing for the adventure. Instead of controlling 2 PCs at once, the player gets to control the dragon in lieu of their normal PC. Be it AD&D or 3.5, she will doubtless be along for the ride albeit mostly in a humanoid form. Having a player run her is a good idea, albeit with the caveat that she will not take dragon form save at a dramatically appropriate moment (like escaping with the good dragon eggs or such). You might also want to allow the player to control their PC if they think they can manage both adequately.

In AD&D terms, dragons are nowhere near as strong as they are in 3.5, so in the latter there's a chance that even in a weaker humanoid body Silvara can be a powerful character. Consider making a level-appropriate stat block for whoever she is intended to be disguised (wizard, fighter, etc).

As recommended in my last blog post, I had the mission known immediately from the outset along with a threat from Ariakas to turn herself over or else more metallic dragon eggs will be squashed for every day that passes. This provides a good hook and motivation, and it's possible the players at this point in the campaign are putting two and two together regarding the reasons behind the Oath.

"No metallic dragons, the draconians all have their scale colors...something seems fishy here.

Travel: The trek to Sanction by land or sea is going to be long, and there's lot of unrelated encounters along the way. Some of them can be fun, such as running through a Dragonarmy blockade to get to Sanction's port. But at this level, and assuming that time is of the essence, the PCs may very well resort to teleportation, long-term flight (via summoned monsters or spells), or other means to bypass regions. In my own campaign I had the PCs abscond with supplies from the White and Red Robe army camps around the High Clerist Tower. This was done to get the spell components to teleport, a very powerful magical spell even in higher-magic settings. The meat of the plot and drama takes place in Sanction, so it may be a good idea to speed up the process or excise it entirely unless your group likes the idea of overland travel with lots of events.

Sanction: In the original adventure, Sanction was a sprawling city amidst an active volcano, much like Mordor. The majority was rundown, with shantytowns and tent-cities from the large influx of mercenaries, draconians, and other wicked folk. The temples, relics of pre-Cataclysm times, are the exception and now used as military stations and meeting points for Dragonarmy VIPs.

In my own campaign, I changed the aesthetics a bit. Sanction was still near an ashy mountain range, but Ariakas wanted the heart of his empire to reflect the beauty of old Istar. There was a large colosseum built in town, both for him to make grandiose public speeches as well as blood sport for entertainment. The city was vertical: the lowest tiers contained the slums and shantytowns while the higher tiers more well-to-do sections with the temples, manors.

The effects of the Dragonarmy rhetoric were present. Drakenheim Academy was where the younger generation of citizens were taught propaganda of the new order. With the aid of clerical magic and the Black Robes, there were ample magical resources as well. When my PCs arrived in town, a set of skulls atop poles acted as a sort of magical broadcasting system to echo Ariakas' speech from the colosseum so that all citizens may hear it. A pair of children ran down the muddy street, one of them displaying a minor bit of clerical magic with youthful wonder while wearing a Medallion of Takhisis.

I made a full transcript of Ariakas' speech here, cribbing notes from real-world dictators (mostly Hitler and Stalin), albeit altered to fit the circumstances of Krynn. I had lines from it interspersed throughout the adventure as the PCs went about Sanction rather than reading it all at once. It may not work if any of your players are familiar with the speeches, but it worked well for my group in making Ariakas an intimidating yet well-spoken figure.

The draconian birthing chamber had a separate room for ones born with deformities, a sliding shoot leading down to a cavernous room to be devoured by slimes (which the PCs saw and put a stop to in saving one from such a fate).

In this way, Sanction was a gilded city. It echoed the glories of a grand and civilized society, but only its trappings. For beneath the thin paint of gold, evil and tyranny could be found.

Interior Artwork from Dragons of Deceit, AD&D Version

Early Encounters with Ariakas: There are 2 opportunities the PCs may meet the Emperor of Ansalon earlier than the final chapter of the Dragonlance Saga. The first is during a public parade in Sanction where he's driving a chariot drawn by human slaves. Kitiara and 20 bodyguards are at his side during this. Another if the PCs get captured and are interrogated in the Temple of Luerkhisis.

The 3.5 version says that even if Ariakas is to die, his body will be taken by guards to one of the temples where he will be resurrected via dark rituals. Although done to prevent a premature victory, it takes a bit of the sense of accomplishment out of the equation. Like the old adage of "if it has stats, players can kill it," you may wish to avoid having the Emperor appear early. My skeleton pole system still gave off his presence while not being physically present, and the PCs were preoccupied with saving the good dragon eggs instead of assassinating the Emperor. As a result, things worked out for my campaign this way.

Two-Page Splash of the Battle of Sanction in the 3.5 version

Discovery, Escape, and the Final Encounter: I admit that my own campaign's progress went very differently from the standard adventure. For one, Silvara teleported away with the good dragon eggs to the Isle while the rest of the PCs fought their way out. They were challenged to battle on the streets of Sanction by their Kitiara Counterpart NPC, who they were intent on saving from what they thought was Ariakas' brainwashing.  Fighting her on top of her dragon, the rest of the city's chromatics gave pursuit with the Green Dragon Highlord Salah-Khan at their helm (what can I say, our Dragonlance was a lot more high-octane than usual). The battle/pursuit was later joined by a flight of 30 metallic dragons led by Silvara in dragon form to counter their assault. The battle mat was a riotous assembly of good and evil dragons which PCs could ride or run on, fighting other riders and the Dragon Highlords. It had the climactic feeling of the standard final encounter, albeit with a clear "boss" for the PCs to fight rather than nameless dragons and soldiers.

In your own games, you might consider going with the standard adventure, or just have the 12 nameless dragons with an undefeated Dragon Highlord at their command (Kitiara Counterpart is highly appropriate for this). Furthermore, the PCs might attempt to escape with the good dragon eggs themselves (there's a lot of them) by piling them into Bags of Holding or as much as they can carry to get word out. Or maybe the latent anti-divination magics concealing the dragon eggs' location is removed once the PCs are out of the Temple, allowing the metallic dragons to come to their aid right then and there.

But regardless of what you do, don't deny your PCs the opportunity to ride on dragons!

Closing Thoughts

Dragons of Deceit is a very good conclusion to the Dragons of Winter arc. The major areas to work on include the primary motivation, how to handle Silvara's role, and giving an "enemy face" of an important NPC in the final battle. Otherwise the adventure works quite well.

Next time, we shall start on the first chapter of the Dragons of Spring arc, Dragons of Dreams!