Thursday 31 August 2023

Dragons of Desolation


That's all, folks! 

Tracy Hickman and Michael Dobson put a lot of work into this one, and so did the rest of the creative team. Like Larry Elmore and Jeff Butler who did the art, and Keith Parkinson who made this cover that, contrary to what I always believed, does not depict a Flying Citadel, and Dave LaForce and Billy Clemons who worked on the cartography. 

Like this little bit here. 

The adventure starts with a dream. It's pretty nifty, I'd say, in how it's done. The first part of the dream is simple, the players are in control of their characters and they know that it's a dream. Then, when things are about to get wicked, you say "And you wake up". 

Huh? Just like that? Well, that's how dreams work - just when something is about to happen, you wake up and it all ends. 

Or maybe not. Because later you get to say "Oh, yes. Now you remember what happened in your dream after you opened the door". 

And this part, the players don't control, because this time it's a memory. You tell them what their characters did in the dream, and what they have forgotten until now. It's a fun trick where you can incorporate what you know about the characters and what motivates them and what the players like to do when they play. 

Another cool metagaming trick is the water. Several times in the adventure, strange things happen that might make the players think that the drinks are responsible. Since we had a kender in the party, both times the other characters yelled "No, wait, don't drink this!" and both times the kender won the dice roll, taking a good sip of the water before the others managed to stop her. 

And Tracy Hickman grins and winks. "Yeah, it's just water", he whispers, "but don't tell them that. Roll the dice and look relieved and tell them they made their save". 

At some points, it feels that the adventure was left unfinished. A dark-haired warrior woman accompanies Verminaard but we never get to know the details - is it Kitiara? What's she doing here? What's her agenda? Too bad, you'll never know. 

 Our little merry band of adventurers did their best to make things even more chaotic than they were supposed to be, using propaganda to confuse the poor minds of the derro.

The skeletal mammoth never got his chance to shine. Things were just too hectic. 

In the end, there was (barely) enough dragons to keep everyone happy, the kender bard transformed into a fearsome creature of the Abyss, and the First True Cleric of the dwarves received over a hundred invitations to date, meet the parents, inspect the mines, and have a dinner from the local dwarven residents of every gender. 

I cannot confidently say where did the Qualinesti wizard go, but Laurana seemingly got over their weird relationship. 

All in all, it was a good campaign. 

To the very last roll of the dice.


Sunday 13 August 2023

Dragons of Hope

As we move on to the end of the First Book of Dragonlance, things are getting messy. The heroes - Qualinesti red mage, Kender bardess, and Hill Dwarf cleric, the first true cleric on Krynn, actually - are gaining power, and at the same time attract the attention of more powerful evil beings. 

In Dragons of Hope, the characters are supposed to enter the ruins of Zhaman, a magical fortress that was created and then destroyed by the great wizard Fistandantilus. 

My one main problem with this adventure is that you bring them to the home of Fistandantilus - you even lead them to the man himself - it is stated in Dragons of Mystery that Fistandantilus created many spells himself... and there is not a single magic book or spell scroll. No books at all. 

This is not something that I want when the gang is raiding a wizard's lair. There had to be at least some light reading for when old F-tilus wasn't busy trying to conquer the world!

So I pulled out Vornheim, and we rolled some results on the library table. The kender found a book in Goblinese, dedicated to the political system in the goblin society, and a collection of kender non-fiction essays. Both proved surprisingly useful. 

The encounter with Fistandantilus himself is... dependant, I'd say, on the players' choices. The build-up is good, there's a series of magic traps that make the visitors much less capable of harming mister F., and the characters can avoid some of those traps if they're smart. 

And then, weakened as they are, they meet the most powerful wizard in history, who's also a demi-lich. I appreciate it that Fistandantilus doesn't hurt the characters if they don't attack him, but what if they do? Again - there's no spells. Apparently you were supposed to pick some for him - which is nice, but he's the bloody Fistandantilus, he's supposed to have some unique spells that he created himself! The self-absorbed braggart of a dragon has more spells! 

On the other hand,  there are some nice moments like the answering stone that only answers three dwarf-centric questions daily. The cleric spent all the daily questions trying to figure out a way to make the stone be useful, which was hilarious. 

It is funny how the amount of dragons per module grows here. The first adventure had one dragon. The second had two. This one had three. 

We'll see how many we'll encounter in the final module. 

Wednesday 9 August 2023

Played some Demon City...

Some notes: 

The rules for character making are simple enough that I managed to write up something playable in a couple minutes, in a crazy hurry, and without re-reading the rules  that I've last read about half a year ago. 

If you know how your character's skills work in real life, it's more interesting and rewarding to use them in the game.

When dealing with undead monstrosities, yelling "Everyone out of the water NOW!" is a much better survival tactic than suicide bombing. 

When suffering from threatening hallucinations, closing your eyes and trying to switch to echolocation is not the worst choice, even though it doesn't really help. 

Combat is fast and deadly.

Thursday 3 August 2023

Interesting Villains vs Realistic Villains

One thing that professional writers like to say is "If you're making a good character, look for something bad in them. If you're making a bad character, look for something good in them". 

This is how you make interesting villains. 

Gollum is an interesting villain. He's a mixture of pure, relentless, unstoppable evil and a really, really old guy who misses his family, with some comic relief thrown in. 

Dragon Highlord Verminaard is, frankly, quite boring. His enchanted mace is a more interesting character than himself. He's just an evil cleric who rides a dragon and wants to kill you. Why? Because he's evil. 

Lord Soth is more interesting because he's an undead horror, but also he used to be a knight and he still follows the noble and chivalrous code - to an extent. 

Strahd von Zarovich (specifically as depicted in "I, Strahd"), Kitiara, Raistlin - you get the idea. 

And when making a realistic villain, you look for something else that's bad in them. 

Wormtongue is a realistic villain. He's a traitor, and he's a coward, he lies and steals, he harrasses Éowyn, and he stabs his boss in the back. 

Greg Stillson in Stephen King's The Dead Zone is a realistic villain. He's bad in more than one way. When he uses a baby as a human shield, it feels natural and organic to the character from the way he behaved from the start. 

If you look for examples in real life, Hitler would make an interesting villain - a decorated soldier who volunteered to go to war, and a loyal friend, as well as a genocidal monster. 

Putin would make a realistic villain - lying, corrupt, cowardly, and abusive, as well as a genocidal monster. 

Both kinds of villains can work well in your stories.

Wednesday 2 August 2023

The good things about Dragons of Flame

The second adventure in Dragonlance campaign, Dragons of Flame, kind of has the same advantages that Zak's Cube World adventure Castle Terravante does. You have your dungeon with giant slugs, zombies and long-dead kings. You have your heist - sneaking dozens of children from under the nose of a crazy dragon lady. And you have your drama - the young and spoiled elven princess is madly in love with one of the characters, and her brother has to be your guide through the dungeon. 


It's also playable if you're lazy/hateful/depressed and want to skip large parts of what Douglas Niles had written specifically for your enjoyment. Like I did. Sure, returning to Solace makes sense for the Innfellows, but our party was made up of a dwarf, a kender, and a Qualinesti elf - why not go directly to Qualinesti? 

The slave caravan part still worked - just with the adventurers outside of the cages. Their elf guide (Porthios, in our case) was captured by the draconians and kept in one of the cages, which is why it made sense for the party to mess with the caravan. 

And since Porthios, quite in character, was not amused by the idea of his sister falling in love with an outcast adventurer; and since our kender bardess, also quite in character, had composed a long and naughty ballad about Laurana's love to our mage; and since the mage was not amused either by the ballad or by Porthios, interactions with the NPC were fun. 

The magic sword that shines and buzzes when dragons are nearby is a beautiful weapon, but I got a little bit tired saying "No,  it is not a lightsaber!" 

Though now I'm thinking about giving one of the villains a red sword, just to make the players happy... 

Fewmaster Toede is still here, and everyone loves to hate him. Poor hobgoblin commander. 

Before we played it, I never noticed how the amulet you can find in Dragons of Despair turns really useful when you get to the giant chain room in Dragons of Flame

Next, we travel to the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin. With eight hundred refugees. And a very angry Highlord Verminaard following us. Not to mention a certain couple of special agents of Takhisis. 

Things are about to get interesting.

Answering Jeff Rients's twenty questions for our Krynn game

We're still stuck in Spidernesti, so this is what I mean when talking about "land".   What is the deal with my cleric's re...