Mar 29, 2008

What Do I Read Next? (Part One)

A Short Guide to the "Core" Dragonlance Novels

As of 2008, Dragonlance novel series (or more accurately "series-es") now numbers close to 100 books, so for the new reader the confusion of what to read is a genuine concern.

Consider this... if you pick up the wrong book you could find yourself at the dawn of the world, in the middle of the reign of the Kingpriests, in the time just before the War of the Lance, decades after the "last war" (be it the War of the Lance, the Chaos War, or the War of Souls), or even on a totally different continent!

If you survey a bunch of fans, you'll come up with a lot of variation on what to read and what not to read, but there are a few consistent responses, most of which I agree with, so here's a chronological list of a portion of the Dragonlance saga:

The Meetings Sextet and The Preludes Sextet

These books detail the early stories of characters that appear in the Chronicles trilogy. While set before Chronicles, all of these books were written after both the Chronicles and Legends series and none of these stories are considered "must-reads". The quality of the novels varies among the different authors on the series, and the tales themselves often contradict events in Chronicles, which is often considered more "official" than these tales.

Final Recommendation: Read about any favorite characters you liked in Chronicles, skip the rest, and definitely read these after Chronicles and Legends.

The Chronicles Trilogy

Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning
Without a doubt, this should be the starting point for any reader interested in Dragonlance. These three novels, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, were the original story for the setting, caught up in a time when dragons were only myth and the continent was in the middle of an all encompassing war.

Final Recommendation: This is the starting point for all things Dragonlance.

The Lost Chronicles

Dragons Of The Dwarven Depths and Dragons of the Highlord Skies
These are the latest books by Weis and Hickman and attempt to fill in details and stories not included in the original Chronicles trilogy. Even the authors recommend that readers NOT read these books till after they've read the Chronicles and Legends trilogies, as there are details or hints in these books that may spoil plotlines in the other books.

Final Recommendation: Read these after the core trilogies, NOT before.

The New Adventures

This is a recent addition to the Dragonlance book line, having just come out within the last few years. It takes place just after the Chronicles trilogy with an all new cast of characters. The original storyline comprised 8 books. Afterward, several of the characters went off on their own adventures in various separate trilogies.
The books are aimed at a slightly younger audience--think "Lord of the Rings" meets "Harry Potter". The characters are all "young adult" and the violence is toned down a bit compared to the "grown up" novels, but the stories are just as interesting and satisfying as any of the other books.
Final Recommendation: Very few people would consider these as must read books, but if you're interested in this time period (just after the War of the Lance), it's a very good collection of stories.

The Legends Trilogy

Time of the Twins, War of the Twins, and Test of the Twins
These books, also by Weis and Hickman, were written shortly after the Chronicles trilogy and detail Raistlin's growing power. The books also jump around in time and detail such events as the Cataclysm and the Dwarfgate War. These are generally considered the first books one should read after the original trilogy.

Final Recommendation: This is your second stop on the Dragonlance journey!

The Second Generation

This book is a collection of short novellas, most written by Weis and Hickman (are you starting to notice a trend here?), that detail the exploits of some of the children of the Heroes of the Lance (Tanis, Kitiara, and Caramon's kids). Three of the stories had been previously released in earlier anthologies, while two are original to this collection.
One of the purposes of the book was to bridge the gap between the previous novels and the then-upcoming Chaos War series. Two interesting bits of trivia... this was actually the first Dragonlance book to be released in hardcover. The original printing of the book had an appendix of AD&D (second edition) rules for new Dragonlance character classes. This was at a time when TSR was not creating new game material for this setting.
Final Recommendation: While interesting, it was obvious that the new stories in this collection are just setting the stage for what will be the next novel. If you plan to read Summer Flame, then you need to read this first, otherwise, it's not a critical book.

Dragons of Summer Flame

This is another book by Weis and Hickman, set about 2 decades after the original stories and involving many of the children of the original heroes (as introduced in The Second Generation). Weis and Hickman only wrote the first book, but they submitted ideas that became several of the other books in the Chaos War series.

Final Recommendation: This book is crucial if you want to follow the timeline into what is known as the "Fifth Age", though there are enough novels set in other times that one could avoid this period and never run out of books to read.

In part two, I'll look at other "core" and non-so "core" Dragonlance novels.

Mar 24, 2008

The Raistlin Doll

Hey, on paper, or in someone's head, I'm sure the idea of a custom made doll based on Raistlin Majere, one of the most popular characters in all of Dragonlance literature, sounded like a good idea.

In actual execution, the result seems highly creepy, as seen in these Raistlin doll photos.

But kudos need to go to the creator of this doll. The attention to detail is quite good--from his trademark hourglass eyes, to the Staff of Magius. I almost half expect him to call out "Shirak!" to make the staff glow it's faint light that has guided him on many a journey. Sadly, I wish the doll had more of the golden skin tone that he's known for, not to mention, I'd love to see a black robe version of him.

In the meantime, at least I still have my D&D Miniatures versions of Raist:
* Raistlin (red robe)
* Raistlin (black robe promo) - repaint of the red robe sculpt

Mar 21, 2008

4th Edition vs "4th" Edition

With the upcoming release of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons rule set, the web has been all abuzz about what the new game will have, what it won't have, and why you need it at your table...

Along those lines Verys Arkon (not sure if that's a screen name or not) has compiled all the bits scattered here and there around the Internet on the new edition into a "lite" 4th Edition PHB pdf.

On the other hand Paizo Publishing (recent home to Dragon and Dungeon magazines), and current publisher of the Pathfinder modules has announced their plan to continue supporting 3.5, with modifications. Their "4th" edition (or is that 3.75 edition?) product, the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, recently released the free alpha version of their rule set.

So let the dueling games begin... and call me when it's over. In the mean time, I gotta go out and get a Blu-Ray player.

Mar 19, 2008

A Different Keep on the Boarderlands - Part 2

After the events earlier that night, Theodonis took a few moments to rest at the top of the tower before continuing on.

In addition to the kender ("Theo"), waiting down below were:

* Hunter, the half-elf ranger.
* Arterion ("Arti"), the elven mage
* Greybear, the druid
* and Bergin, a minotaur cleric

Thinking that the tower was empty, Theo continued down to the sleeping area, only to find himself under attack by a pair of hobgoblin spear-men. These warriors were much better trained than the guards Theo had previously fought and he soon found himself seriously wounded and overwhelmed by the attack. With few options, he fled down a second set of stairs to the ground floor, and hopefully a quick exit from this tower.

But the tower defenses were prepared for such an assault. They had overturned their feast table for cover and trained their bows on anyone coming down. One arrow and one crossbow bolt later and Theo was unconscious and bleeding at the foot of the stairs...

Meanwhile, outside the tower, the rest of the party waited... and waited. Only a few minutes had passed, but without word from the cheery kender, they quickly grew worried.

a kapak draconianUsing one of the breaches in the keep walls, everyone was able to sneak inside the compound unnoticed. They made their way to the tower door. Inside Greybear found himself talking with a coppery scaled humanoid creature that he soon recognized as a kapak, one of the five types of draconians that appeared in on Krynn during the War of the Lance. Nearby a hobgoblin held an unconscious Theo at knife point insuring no surprise attack from the druid.

"Don't make a move or your friend dies," the draconian spoke in a raspy, slithery tone.

For a moment Greybear thought darkly, "I have no friends", but the slight of the near dead kender was no laughing matter and the two quickly negotiated a ransom, which the druid promptly paid.

The two left the tower to rejoin the rest of the party and administered healing aid to Theo in the form of spells and potions. From within, they could hear a barracade being erected in front of the door...

At the other end of the courtyard, the party could hear the sound of a small band of guttural sounding humanoids amassing. A moment later the sound of them rushing toward the party set the stage for another battle, this one in the dead of night and in the middle of this old keep. At first the goblins and hobgoblins stayed back launching arrows till the party closed in for melee combat. The party traded steel and spells with the humanoids arrows and blades; both sides taking heavy damage. But soon after the party started gaining the upper hand and a few of the hobgoblin attackers fell. Meanwhile the remaining humanoids started ganging up on people, such as a pair of particularly nasty goblin rogues surrounding Theo or the hobgoblins that kept trading blows with Bergin. But before anyone else in the keep was alerted, the party defeated the rest of their attackers and made a quick exit out breach in the rear wall.

Just outside the keep, the party noticed a path leading from the keep to a small cave entrance a few hundred yards away. From the look of the tracks, Hunter could tell that all manner of beings had walked this path, from humans, elves, and dwarves, to goblins, hobgoblins, and one or two tracks from something much larger.

an arrow slitThe party also took the time to peer into the two large buildings at the back of the keep, via arrow slits and found that each building contained over two dozen prisoners, all weakened and covered in tattered cloth and grime, as well as one sleeping giant-like creature keeping guard over all of them.

Realizing that they had to do something for these prisoners, and hoping that Bergin's friend Cat was alive among them, the party formulated a rescue plan. Their first step was to enter one of the empty towers and rest for the remainder of the night. Figuring that the tower where all the goblins and hobgoblins had come from would now be empty, they went there.

a kapak draconian miniature from the D&D Minatures Dragoneye setThe first floor was abandoned, but the second floor held another kapak draconian and two hobgoblins wielding long polearms weapons. In the small space combat was tight, but eventually the three monsters were defeated. In a particularly interesting sight, when the kapak leader died, he dissolved into a small pool of corrosive acid. With the tower cleared (there were no guards in this location), the party secured the ground floor door and posted lookouts on the roof.

Mar 16, 2008

History of Dragonlance Comics

The history of Dragonlance comics is an interesting collection of stops and starts; success and failures.

DC/Dragonlance comic, first issueIn the mid 80's DC comics had acquired licenses to several TSR settings (including Dragonlance, The Forgotten Realms, and Spelljammer) and released comics based on those properties. For the Dragonlance comics, the stories were told in an anthology format, with about 3-4 issues completing one tale.

One of the bad things in the series at this time was that the stories were bouncing around in time, from just before the War of the Lance, to many, many years later and was slightly confusing, even for someone familiar with the setting and the timeline.

Later in the run, the comic settled on a set of characters and kept the stories at around the same time.

Unfortunately the comic had moved from the content of Ansalon, where all the previous novels and most of the gaming products had been set, to the new content of Taladas. This coincided with the TSR release of the new lands in a few gaming products, but seemed to be as quickly killed off by the company as fast at it arrived.

At the very end of the comic run, it once again returned to an anthology format spread across different eras (as well as different writers and art teams). After 34 issues, the comic ended publication (as did all DC/TSR comics at that time). There was talk of TSR producing the comics in-house, but nothing ever came of that.

Another interesting item to point out is that none of the comics are adaptations of existing novels or short stories, though major characters like Tanis Half-Elven and Raistlin do appear in several of the stories. For a look at all the covers, check out the Dragonlance/DC Comics page at the Dragonlance Nexus.

For "behind the scenes" details about the Dragonlance/DC comics at this time, check out this Comic Book Resources column, the Here Be Dragons entry, and this follow-up column, the TSRetaliation entry.

It would be many years later before the next Dragonlance comic would appear. That comic, Dragonlance: The Fifth Age, would be a one-shot comic available for free at various places (I recall getting my copies at Gen Con one year) to promote the new Dragonlance setting. It was a much an introduction to the setting as an actual story.

In addition the Dragonlance: The Fifth Age comic, WotC released comics for most of it's major game lines, including The Forgottem Realms and Birthright settings.

That would be the last comic seen for many, many years to come...

Over the last few years, there's been a resurgence in Dragonlance comics. It started with the comic adaptation of The Legend of Huma novel. Sadly company issues forced the comic to be canceled after only five issues, even though a sixth issue had been completed. The asset moved to another company who released the last issues and later a Legend of Huma collected hardback of all previous issues. There seems to be no effort to complete this story in the near future.

It's interesting to note that the company started with this novel and not the original trilogy, though that property might not have been available to license at the time.

More recently, there have been adaptations of the original trilogy, Dragons Of Autumn Twilight, Dragons Of Winter Night, and Dragons Of Spring Dawning (to be released as Part 1 and Part 2) as well as upcoming adaptations of the Legends trilogy.

Like any adaptation, these comics have had to omit elements from the original story, but for the most part these products are faithful to the original source material.

Unlike before, it seems as if Dragonlance comics are going strong in this new era. In addition the current series, and planned new series, Dragonlance stories will also be appearing in the new Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons comic anthology coming soon from Devil Due Publishing.

All in all, it's a good time to be a fan!

Mar 12, 2008

Dungeons and Dragons Gone Wild...

A great clip from Reno 911 showing what could happen if you take the game too far...

Mar 9, 2008

GS: A differnt keep on the border lands - Part 1

After the events of the party's most recent adventure (detailed here (part 1), here (part 2), and here (part 3), the PCs spent some time on personals matters.

Greybear presented the leader of his druid circle with the lost scroll he'd found as well as spent some time training and gaining a new wolf companion before returning to Flotsam and rejoining the others.

Arterion, also continued his training, under Browyn the Red, and researching the darkly-magical claw they had found, with no luck...

With a little time for relaxation on their hands, Greybear, Hunter, and Davyn (Hunter's mentor) spent time in the woods enjoying the natural landscapes of the area, the peace and tranquility from the hectic city, and learning a little about each other. The trip lasted several days, but it was the last day that was most notable!

On that day, just after Hunter was showing off some of his tracking skills by pointing out the old markings of a small group of hobgoblins who had been in the area several weeks ago, and appeared to be heading south, there was a loud rustling in the trees. From out of the brush a hulking minotaur burst forth. After a brief moment's pause, Hunter and Greybear realized the minotaur was clad in holy vestments and did not appear to be looking for a fight.

It turns out Bergin (as the party would learn later) was actually stumbling around looking for his old friend Davyn about a mutual friend of theirs, Catriona.

It seems Bergin and Catriona, were doing some research into something called the Black Scourge, a dire prophesy of a dark time where death would wash over cities and countries in never ending waves.

They split up a few weeks ago to follow up different leads and meet back to report their findings. When Cat didn't show up Bergin began to worry... a week later and he set out looking for Davyn to help retracing her lead... a place called Brightstone Keep, in the nearby area.

Everyone returned to town to enlist the aid of the rest of their friends. Rather than accompany this party, Davyn went to check up on a lead of his own... he made no mention of where he might be going other than to say cryptically Sindri.

Before heading out the following mornign, Bergin took the opportunity to enjoy many of the cities various pleasures... but the next day it was all business for the minotaur and the job of finding his friend.

The party traveled by foot for two days south to the keep. The travel was mostly uneventful, though at one point they did meet a pair of traveling merchant gnomes heading north who show them various wares they invented, from the "lightspot", the "parchment fastener", and the "everfood backpack" (aka a flashlight, a staple--but no stapler--and a bag of rats that are breeding to be the 'everfood', respectively). Not able to make a sale, Blaquee and Dekker (the two gnomes), pack up and continue their travel north.

DM Note: Blaquee and Dekker are a pair of gnomes from my original Dragonlance 2ed edition AD&D game, and always seemed to be in the same places as the PCs. Their contraptions are, like most gnomish devices, a hazard to whomever actually tries to use them. They are purely for comical relief, and I love roleplaying these two crazy little brothers!
By the middle of the second day, the party traveled close enough to see the keep high in the nearby mountains. While still several hours away from the keep, they were attacked by a small band of hobgoblin scouts; first by arrow fire and then in melee combat. The hobgoblins were quickly defeated with only minor injury to the party.

Afterward, they continued on to the keep, cautious to stay off the main trail. They set up camp within a few hundred yards of the keep, while Hunter went off on his own to scout the area. He noticed 2 guards atop each of the three towers. He also saw two large buildings in the rear of the keep and walls connecting all the structures; though the walls were in disrepair with major breeches along the structure.

With this information, the group made a plan of attack that would occur during the middle of the night. At the appropriate time, Greybear's wolf companion began howling around one side of the keep as a distraction to try and focus attention away from the other side, where the stealth assault was taking place. Theo positioned himself just at the edge of the cliffs surrounding this part of the keep, while Arti, still hidden in the woods, was close enough to cast ancient magics that caused Theodonis and one of the hobgoblins on the tower wall to swap places.

In an instant the flow of magic washed over the kender and he found himself on the tower wall while the hobgoblin who was there now appeared on the side of the cliffs. With no support and still disoriented from the spell, the guard plummeted to his death.

Sneaking along the wall, Theo made his way to the tower turret. All the guards were busy trying to see the nearby howling wolf, unaware of who was standing behind them. With swift action, Theo was able to eliminate one of the guards, but his death scream alerted the others on the tower.

Quickly Theo backed himself into a corner. With a combination of nimble dexterity and quick blades he defeated the three guards with only minimal injury to himself. While trying baracade the trap door leading down into the tower, two more guards came up to investigate the recent noise.

These hobgoblin guards were a bit more coordinated and agile with their weapons; crook blades. These curved blades are a bit longer than a typical sword and balanced to take fuller advantage of the hobgoblins savage fighting tactics.

Once again the agile kender dodged most of the attacks while connecting with his own thrusts and slices. The two guards also fell to these attacks.

Afterward Theo was able to block the trap door into the other tower floors and earn a bit of a rest... a rest he would desperately need before facing his next foes.

Mar 4, 2008

The King is Dead... Long Live the King

Early reports are that Gary Gygax, who along with Dave Arenson, is one of the creators of the Dungeons and Dragons game has passed away.

Here's a thread on the topic. For more on his life, check out his page on Wikipedia.

Let's all dedicate our next nat-20 to the man who gave us this wonderful hobby!

UPDATE: Here's more details in this Yahoo article.

Mar 2, 2008

House Rule: Death and Dying in D&D

I've used a variation of the following rule for a number of years, almost since I started DMing... aaalllll the way back in 2nd edition (when the game was still called AD&D!)

Normal Rule: PCs die when their hit points reach -10
House Rule: PCs die when their hit points reach -10 + CON bonus

The upside is that most characters now probably last a round or two longer. Particular weak characters could expire sooner, but at least there's a logical relationship on a PCs heartiness and how long before they die.

Back in second edition, my rule was a bit different. A PC would die at -CON value. It probably had a more beneficial effect, since I recall most of the PCs having a con value in the 12-16 range. Interestingly, years later I found this post on Monte Cook's website with his house rules on death and dying. Seems he uses -CON for death in his 3e games, along with a modification to the unconscious below zero rule.

Lastly, it'll be interesting to see what D&D 4th edition has planned for this most important, yet most feared-by-the-players part of the game!