Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Awesomeness of DL1 - Dragons of Despair

Okay - I know, I know, I know - Dragonlance killed D&D. It was that whole story drives the adventure instead of adventure creating the story thing. I get it. I know, Dragonlance is evil.

But here's the thing. I caught the ads in Dragon Magazine when they first started running them - I was a regular at the nearby Waldenbooks at the time and bought virtually every issue from issue 71 on (I couldn't afford a subscription, but I always managed to scrape together enough money to buy an issue each month - I even snagged the Archive on CD deeply discounted at Electronics Boutique years later). Anyway, I read the ad copy and imagined what a great module DL 1 would be - great cover art, a winning concept (featuring adventures against all the evil dragons) - and this mystical weapon called the Dragonlance.

Okay, so the module didn't live up to all the hype (where are the dang Dragonlances, anyway?) and it was a radically different kind of world. But once I read the adventure, I found it to be exactly the kind of adventure format I liked. Some events occurring in the background (the movement of the Dragonarmies) and some events that would just happen wherever the characters were. Things were kind of funneled toward the Swamp Dungeon - which is just as it should be, since that's the climax of the adventure and the lair of the dragon.

But it was how they did it that I liked so much. First off, the maps. From the wilderness hex map (I'll get to that in a minute) to the perspective map of Xak Tsoaroth, they were evocative just looking at them. Second - the backstory. I liked coming in In Media Res on a Dragonman Invasion. I liked the new apocalypse in this post-apocalyptic world. I hated the devaluation of gold - but I liked the lack of clerics (and the kind of quest to re-discover clerical powers).

And since I reopened this adventure because I was thinking about filling wilderness hexes, let me talk a minute about what worked the best for me in this adventure.

The Wilderness

Fully half the adventure is the possibility of wandering around the wilderness. There are 7 events and 44 encounter locations (counting Xak Tsaroth) to inflict on the PCs. Many of them are simply named:

10. Sentinel Gap Walls of granite soar on either side of the narrow canyon floor. A chilly breeze whistles and tumbles between the cliffs.

and some of the areas have more detail. The above is enough for me to get a sense of the place as the PCs visit it.

I actually liked that there were ways to get the PCs to one of the Expositors of Plot (the Pegasi will take them to the Forestmaster no matter what they want if they capture them and fly them, the Centaurs will carry them there) because the PCs would be free to NOT capture the Pegasi and, of course, they don't HAVE to go into the forest at all if they choose not to. There just enough detail in the "throwaway areas" that I could probably build adventures in every one of those locales (and might have to, since this is a true old school product with Random Encounter tables). I'm looking at DL1 as my model for hex filling - for rounding out a wilderness area with general descriptions and letting random tables to their thing for the details.

Yes, the plot following got way too heavy handed (really, if a NPC gets killed and he is needed really use the soap opera convention on him? Really?) and the need to follow these particular characters was annoying... But it started off so promising.

So, don't buy any of the rest of the line. But DL1 is, for me, a nearly perfect AD&D adventure.***

***yeah, okay, except the freaking typos and the terrible editing job...but's one of the best.

No comments: