Running Dragonlance DL1: Dragons of Despair
After many years of hoping to get a large enough group interested in playing it, I finally managed to run the first Dragonlance module – Dragons of Despair – using the 1st edition AD&D rules on Saturday. It was a lot of fun. I know the series gets some flack for a fair amount of railroading, but this first module does a fantastic job of presenting a little sandbox to wander about in with plenty of clues out there to eventually guide people towards the dungeon. I love the approach taken with this module, and wish there were more like it. I may have to put something together myself. My players were also impressed with little things like the sheet music being present for Goldmoon’s song (I played a youtube video, since none of us are musically talented; Youtube video can be found here) and that a recipe exists for Otik’s spiced potatoes.
Since we are only playing the first module, I allowed people to create their own characters if they wanted to. The heroes of the lance are fairly potent characters, so I opted not to use the standard method. Attributes started at 10, and they had 20 points to split between those attributes if they wanted, but only one could be an 18. They had a total of +3 in magic items, and any basic equipment that they wanted. Because of the general lack of armour, fighters and subclasses would be allowed ring-mail or studded leather, others would be allowed leather (as long as they could use it). To line up approximately with the way the companions seem to be set up a magic-user would be 3rd level, a demi-human 4th and any human characters would be 5th level.
As it happens, only two players opted to create their own characters.
Caramon Majere was replaced with Mischa Majere; a 5th level human Monk who spent his youth learning martial arts with an ancient hermit deep in the woods.
The other player wanted to create a dexterity and charisma based Fighter. They then decided to be half-elven, so I pointed out that there was already a half-elven fighter character in the list: Tanis. He decided that he still wanted to choose his own attributes but would use Tanis’ background, name and equipment.
The rest chose to play the pre-generated characters. In the end we were only able to get 7 players together for the game, so Goldmoon remained an NPC.
For ease of play I created a double sided quick reference sheet with all the relevant tables and numbers on one side and the spells used by the monsters on the other. I also printed a double sided sheet with all the spell descriptions from Raistlin’s spellbook and laminated it, so that all the player had to do is use a whiteboard marker to indicate what spells he had prepared for the day. I thoroughly recommend this, especially with new players, to reduce the time spent digging around the player’s handbook. Even if you own the original module, I also recommend picking up the pdf from DriveThruRPG. It costs less than a fiver and gives you reasonable quality scans to print out important things like the maps, character cards and appendices for quick reference.
For copyright reasons I obviously cannot share the spell sheets here, but this is the quick reference sheet I put together in case it proves useful to anyone:
For games I only run once a month I try to write up a chronicle after the session, so that we have something to reference in following sessions. Here then is my chronicle of the first session. As you will see, the players took quite a different path to that given in the novelisations.
After 5 years travelling on their separate paths, 6 companions return to their home town of Solace. Flint Fireforge the Dwarf. Tanis Half-Elven. Tasslehof Burrfoot the kender. Mischa Majere the Monk & his brother Raistlin Majere, the mage. Sturm Brightblade the moustached warrior with a heroic heritage. Some were looking for evidence of clerical magic and true healing. Others for revenge or their heritage. And the brothers sought the Towers of High Sorcery so that Raistlin might take the tests that would unlock the realm of higher magics for him.
They meet in the evening on the road back to Solace and share tales of their journeys. The companions are accosted by a band of Hobgoblins led by the loathsome Fewmaster Toede. Toede orders his troops to murder the companions and take Raistlin’s staff, then gallops off on his beleaguered pony.
The companions initially struggle to land any blows on their foul foes, and Raistlin takes a hit. Finally though, Mischa bludgeon his opponent to death and runs to his brother’s aid. Sturm and Flint manage to deal with their attackers next and it is not long until the enemies are finally despatched, though they fought to the last hobgoblin with uncommon ferocity.
The companions finish their journey to the treetop town of Solace, and head to the Inn of the Last Home to wash the dust of the road from parched throats. They meet old friends and settle in for drink and Otiks famous spiced potatoes. On the table nearby, a pair of Que Shu stand and begin to play music; singing a song of love and loss and a blue crystal staff. As the song ends, a staff rolls out of the lady singer’s robes and lands at Raistlin’s feet, curing him of his injuries. A sign of true healing and clerical magic at last. A hush enters the Inn, and then whispers. It seems that suspicious people have been asking over this staff. Tanis goes to pick up the staff, but it gives him an electric shock that forces him to drop it and leaves him hurt.
The Que Shu lady picks up the staff and the pair begin to leave the Inn, ignoring Tanis’ pleas to stop and talk.
Tasslehoff and Flint leave the Inn after them and persuade the pair to listen to them, while Sturm asks the crowd in the Inn what they know of the staff.
Sturm discovers that robed figures have been asking if anyone had seen the staff, and that the other day one of the Seeker’s Holy Guard rode through town and asked anyone who found the staff to take it to the High Council at Haven.
The rest of the Companions in the meantime had persuaded the Que Shu couple, Goldmoon and Riverwind, that they just wanted to help and that they had been searching for signs of clerical magic. Goldmoon and Riverwind agree to let the Companions help them find out more about the staff.
The party decide to spend the night at Flint’s old home. They take a breakfast of spiced potatoes at the Inn of the Last Home and then head out to the scene of last night’s battle in order to track down Fewmaster Toede.
They track him into the woods and locate the hobgoblin’s camp. Tasslehoff and Mischa attempt to sneak into the camp from opposite directions, but Tasslehoff stumbles on a branch and alerts the Fewmaster to their presence. He charges Tasslehoff, but pulls up short when Tanis calls out and tells the Fewmaster that they have the Blue Crystal Staff and have come to trade it.
Negotiations do not go well, and Flint decides to throw an axe at the Fewmaster. He barely scratches Toede, and a fight breaks out. Tanis and Flint attempt to subdue the Hobgoblin with pommel and shield, but fail to do much. Then Mischa steps out of the shadows and knocks the Fewmaster out with a fist to each side of the head.
They tie the Fewmaster up and Raistlin casts a charm spell upon him. They learn that Toede’s master Onyx, a dark being of great majesty that is currently at the city of Xak Tsaroth, has ordered that the blue crystal staff be captured and brought to him under the orders of the Dark Queen. The party claim that they wish to take the staff to Onyx themselves and take the Fewmaster with them.
The party travels over the hills to the nearby town of Que Kiri, arriving there in the evening. The town is unwelcoming to strangers and guards escort them out of town, telling tales of armies to the north and missing townspeople.
The party camp outside the town, and recall the canticle of the dragon. A fairy tale rhyme that tells of the great hero Huma receiving the dragonlance from Paladine, that he used to drive dragons and the evil of the Dark Queen from the land. Looking at the sky, Raistlin realises that the Dark Queen’s constellation of stars is missing from the sky; though many of the party don’t believe him.
After some discussion over direction, the party decides to head south to Que Teh, for more information, and from there they will most likely go to Haven. They come upon a crossroads upon their journey, showing many rag clad feet travelling east towards the Que Shu capital.
They arrive at Que Teh to find it deserted, as if everyone left in a hurry. They discover tracks from the people of Que Teh that head south east and so they decide to follow. After a couple of hours they encounter a Que Shu man fleeing three strange robed beings. The party rush to his aid. Tasslehoff launches bullets from his hoopak, and Tanis and Riverwind fire arrows. Most do not find their mark, except for Tanis’ shot which hits something underneath the target’s robe.
Sturm, Mischa and Flint charge into the fray but only Flint lands a blow; splitting open the skull of his foe and revealing its horrifying visage. Some horrifying blend of man and serpent or lizard. He barely manages to pull out his axe before the body hardens to stone before his eyes. Raistlin crushes a wild cricket plucked from the grass to sand and blows it at the remaining foes, causing them to fall into slumber. The party quickly finish the sleeping monsters off and talk to the man they just rescued.
The man is named Nightshade, and is from the village of Que Teh. He tells them that his entire village has been captured by dragon men and are being taken south to be used as slaves. A tremendous army of evil lies to the south and to the north, and they overheard their captors being afraid of a blue crystal staff being returned to the cursed city of Xak Tsaroth. The rest of the villagers rose against the dragon men to buy Nightshade the time to escape, to run to Que Shu for aid. He begs the party to help him get there.
The party decide to proceed to Que Shu, to help raise an army there to free the captive villagers. But when they arrived they discover the land around the town scorched and blasted, and the town itself in ruins. They find three burned corpses hanging from melted chains and a crude sign hacked into wood, that Tasslehoff deciphers. It reads “Know ye, my servants, the fate of those who take prisoners against my will. Kill or be killed. Verminaard.”
Toede informs the party that High Lord Verminaard is in command of the northern army and a being to be feared.
And here we leave the tale, until next month.