Jun 30, 2008

Commenting On...

I've kept commenting turned off for a while now, but when I looked at the blog stats recently, I've seen a lot more numbers than when I first started this. Since I don't want the conversation to be one sided, I'm going to turn on the comment feature. If you're a casual reader or first time visitor, I hope you'll take a moment to leave a comment, add to the discussion, and otherwise help enrich the experience here.

You've heard me ramble on for months, now I look forward to hearing from you...

Jun 29, 2008

The Original D&D Movie - Dragonstrike

For many years, TSR tried to come up with ways to bring new players into the D&D game. Their own research had shown that there was a steep learning curve to the rules set (something that I think has persisted to this day). To that end, TSR created various versions of D&D lite, usually in the form of a board game, sometimes with cards and plastic pieces, and always with a full set of polyhedral dice.

One such game was Dragonstrike. One of the things that made this game different was the inclusion of a video. Only a small part of the video casette (remember those!) is actually instructional, most of it is a live action/computer graphics short film depicting one adventure. Be warned that the CG is pretty bad, the acting not too much better, and the plot straight out of a basic adventure... on the other hand, it does have it's moments, illustrates some basic concepts and has a disembodied floating head DM (where else are you going to see that!)

So grab a soda, and a small popcorn, 'cause it's movie night...

Jun 27, 2008

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 4) - Honor or Life?

My Honor Is My Life

DC/Dragonlance comic, issue 4The story picks up shortly after the events of issue 3. Kitiara, top her dragon Skie, is leading her army, along with an unmounted red dragon, toward Castle Silvercrown.

Inside, Riva and Vandar are talking with Fizban, without getting much information out of the old wizard. Riva leaves, with the dragonlance that was recovered from the monestary of Majere in issue 1, to join up with the castle knights. She tries to bolster their spirits before the attack, but is quickly dismissed since she's a woman.

Meanwhile as Vandar and Fizban talk, the young boy, Tip, appears, happy the old wizard is still alive. As Vandar leaves to meditate on his own, Fizban questions weither or not Angriff really died the way Vandar remembered it (as seen in issue 3).

Outside, as the battle rages, Riva single-handedly kills the red dragon. This event turns the tied of the battle and instills the knights with renewed vigor. Just then, Kit arrives and launchs her attack on Riva.

Back inside, Vandar is deep in prayer. He looks at the Medallion of Majere as well as a sword mounted on the wall. He puts on the medallion and leaves the room.

Outside Riva is wounded and then disarmed by the Dragon Highlord. Vandar appears, holding Riva's sword. Kit dismisses the monk as not being a serious threat until Vandar uses the power of the medallion to conjour a chitinous armor like a bug might have (insects are part of the domain of Majere). As Kitiara and Vandar fight, Skie swoops in and attacks Vandar from behind. Kitiara uses the moment to grab Riva's dragonlance before fleeing atop her dragon steed.

As Kit flies away, Fizban reveals that he has the real lance and Kitiara escaped with a fake one. Riva comforts Vandar as he dies, realizing that Fizban was actually the god Paladine. Fizban then reminds Riva that because of the actions of her and Vandar, "the light still burns."

At the end of the comic, we get a map showing key locations from the first 4 issues, along with the paths Riva and Sturm traveled. Also we get stats for Kitiara, the dragon Skie, and information on dragonarmor (the armor Dragon Highlords wear).

Commentary

(Spoiler Warning for the Chronicles trilogy)
The artwork was really exceptional in this issue. There was a great deal of attention paid to Skie, Kitiara, the red dragon, and the knights of Castle Silvercrown. I thought more detail should have been taken for Kit's foot soldiers, who all looked like viking warriors, instead of mercenaries and monsters (draconians, hobgoblins, and other creatures).

I was less than pleased with the overall story. As I mentioned before many of the scenes remind me of similar scenes from the Chronicles novels:
  • Kitiara on her dragon looming over an opponent. Here it's Riva, in the novels it's Sturm at the High Clericist Tower.
  • A woman not being taken seriously by the knights until she proves herself in battle against a dragon. Here it's Riva, in the novels it's Laurana at the High Clericist Tower.
  • Kitiara being mistaken for a man (by a woman) till she removes her helmet. Here it's Riva, in the novels it's Laurana.
  • Kitiara killing a Brightblade. Here it's Vandar, in the novels it's Sturm.
  • A dying character realizing who Fizban really is. Here it's Vandar, in the novels it's Flint
Also, I really liked the character of Vandar and wanted to see more of his story. Killing him off in this issue seemed like too easy a resolution to his personal struggle. Also, Fizban's comment that Angriff Brightblade might not be dead becomes an unresolved plot point, since no one else was around to hear that statement (I'm not counting Tip, since he's just a little boy).

Overall I was disappointed with how the issue ended, but on the other hand was looking forward to seeing how the next issue would continue Riva's story.

Jun 20, 2008

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 3) - Caught in a Dream's Clutches!

Continuing my review of DC's Dragonlance comics series.

Nightwatch

DC/Dragonlance comic, third issueThe issue starts at night in Riva's bedroom at Castle Silvercrown. As Riva and Vandar kiss, Vandar is revealed to be a draconian. Riva quickly kills the creature before setting off to find the real Vandar in the castle.

She encounters her father and brother (who was revealed last issue to have been killed several months earlier by a Sivak draconian) tethered to strings like puppets trying to stop her. After Riva cuts the strings that control them, the two crumple to the floor.

Elsewhere in the castle, she finds Vandar chained and tortured by a hobgoblin. She quickly kills the creature and frees the monk. As they talk, it appears Vandar is trapped in the same dream as Riva. While taking a break to rest, Riva hears Vandar talking, but then sees that he's talking to his brother Angriff (Sturm's father). As the scene plays out, Riva sees the two argue about how to deal with the angry mob outside the castle and finally how an arrow breaks through a window killing Angriff.

Vandar, broken out of the "flashback", reveals that this lead to him abandoning the knighthood. As they talk, Lord Soth appears taunting Riva and Vandar. Riva moves to attack but is restrained by Soth's magics. Vandar is then offered a blade and a chance to reclaim his honor in combat (Soth has the best line of the issue when he offers the blade: "Are you man--or monk?"). Vandar tries to attack as Soth's image fades into that of a beautiful dark haired woman asking about "the one", someone Riva and Vandar have meet, but didn't realize just who it was.

Just then the woman turns into a five headed dragon as Vandar realizes the "woman" was the goddess Takhisis. Riva seizes the nearby dragonlance and stabs Takhisis, which breaks the illusion of the dream.

Riva, stumbles out of her bed and finds Vandar in the hall. The two sidestep the issue of their dream kiss, instead concentrating on who "the one" is. At that moment, Fizban reveals that would be him...

Commentary

This was my favorite issue so far, even though most of it was a dream. I liked the Riva/Vandar romance, Vandar's flashback showing the death of Sturm's father (never before or since detailed), the artwork for Riva, Soth, and Takhisis, and the growing conflict in Vandar between the knight he was and the monk he is.

Once again, the issue also had a few missteps including the scene with Riva's father and brother, which just seemed like filler. Also many of the events in the book seem recycled from the Chronicles books, including the shared dream (from Dragons of Winter Night), the search for "the one" (similar to the search for the "green gemstone man" throughout the series), and a single person slaying Takhisis with a dragonlance (a reference to the Legend of Huma).

I think at this point I started realizing that the Dragonlance comic would never be a really great book (and this was later confirmed when I started reading Jeff Grubb's Forgotten Realms comic, the gold standard of the TSR/DC comics, IMO)

Jun 16, 2008

D&D Rules - Time to Train

I was recently writing up a post about one of the recent game sessions (I'm about three sessions, or two posts, behind the actual campaign) when I started going off on a tangent about Training.

As I started writing more and more on this "tangent" I realized this should be it's own post...

Here's the conundrum I run into with training in the D&D game... on one hand I like the logic that characters need to train to gain new abilities and powers. On the other hand, I hate the fact that long term adventures need to "grind to a halt" to allow PCs a couple of weeks to train.

I especially have this problem when the characters are in the middle of a big, epic, "save the world" kind of adventure. There are a couple of solutions, adventure-wise, but none that I like. I could just stick with dungeon crawls, so the characters can stop, train, and resume the crawl at their leisure. But I think a good campaign should have a bit more than just "break door, kill, loot, rinse and repeat". Alternately I could keep the adventures short to allow the logical end to occur around the time the character would be ready to train. I do that at low levels, but when I start getting into the mid levels (my personal sweet spot as a DM), I like epic stories, which rarely fit into 12 encounters or less.

Now I could just abandon training all together, which later versions of the game have done, but then I can't rationalize how characters seemingly learn abilities and powers spontaneously.

I've tried solutions that are a mix of the two... allowing characters to partially advance mid adventure (gaining hps and more existing spells/day, but not new feats, or new spell levels) and then train up later. In fact I had to update my ending to the previous adventure to establish that the Black Scourge was "contained", for a while at least, to logically allow PCs to stop and train and research what they could do next.

Lately I've been thinking of requiring characters to train at low levels (1-5) to advance and then advance without training (or "self-training") thereafter... just a thought.

Jun 13, 2008

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 2) - Beware the Draconian

Continuing my review of DC's Dragonlance comics series.

Rites of Passage

DC/Dragonlance comic, second issueThe issue starts with Riva and Vandar looking at the dragonlance they recovered in the first issue. Riva claims Vandar should carry it, or at least one of the other weapons they have, but Vandar's pacifist beliefs don't allow it. That night he notices that the constellations of the Queen of Darkness (Takhisis) and the Valiant Warrior (Paladine) do not appear in the sky. He believes that the two gods are on Krynn and no one will survive their battle. As Riva tries to comfort him, we see her attraction to Vandar while he seems to brood on a past betrayal.
Note: The sight of the missing constellations ties in to a similar scene in Dragons of Autumn Twilight.
In the middle of the night, Riva is alone in a dense, thorny forest, where she confronts Lord Soth. As she tries to use her dragonlance against him, he easily disarms her with magic.

Just then, Riva wakes up from her dream to find herself being attacked by a dragon-man creature. As it bears down on Riva, Vandar tries to attack the creature but is quickly knocked down. Both he and Riva are enveloped by a magical web the creature casts.

They are quickly rescued by Fizban and the boy, Tip (from the first issue). Fizban also explains that those creatures are "draconians", and have only recently appeared on Krynn.

All four head to Castle Silvercrown, where Riva's father, Eglin calls Vandar "a stain on the knighthood". Riva's rebuttal is that Eglin and her brother Malik are hiding in the castle instead of trying to confront the rumored dragonarmies in the area. Fizban tries to diffuse the argument with a card trick, but can't seem to recall how it goes. Malik, clearly drunk, is interested in the trick and leads Fizban out of the room.

On the roof of the castle, Malik confronts Fizban claimed he sensed great powder in the mage. Fizban notices that Malik no longer appears drunk. The image of Malik shifts to reveal a draconian. The creature claims to have killed Malik and taken his place several months ago.

Vandar arrives to see the draconian attack the befuddled wizard, but doesn't do anything, citing his pacifist code. As Fizban is pushed down a well, Elgin, Riva, and Tip arrive. Riva looks disappointed when she realizes that Vandar could have done something to stop Fizban's murder. Tip wants revenge for Fizban, but Eglin stops him. Riva instead attacks the draconian in single combat. When she is hurt, Vandar tries to step in, only to be stopped by Eglin. The elder Silvercrown notes how Vandar did nothting to save the wizard, but now rushes to Riva's aid. Just then, Riva is able to get the upper hand on the draconian, and plunge her sword through it's belly and turns to stone. Upon death, the draconian takes on the appearance of Riva.

As Riva wonders what other enemies are rising up in the realm, we see an image of Lord Soth, sitting on his throne in Dargaard Keep laughing...

The information page includes data on the Knights of Solomnia, the Oath and the Measure, as well as basic stats and a brief description of Lord Soth.

Commentary

I really liked the second issue, even though it had some faults. For fans of the original trilogy, the scene with the missing constellations was a great bonus. We can clearly see that Riva is attracted to Vandar and that he has some terrible secret in his past that probably dishonored him and drove him out of the knighthood. Also, we see him try to jump to her defense several times in the story, so it's pretty safe that he has feelings for her as well.

I didn't like Tip much in either issue. As a companion to Fizban, he serves the same function that Tas does in the original trilogy, but without being a kender. The lack of a kender in the story so far is a bit disappointing as they are such an identifiable race for the Dragonlance setting. Also, since I had read all the Dragonlance books that came out at this time, the "death" of Fizban wasn't so shocking. And the final scene of Lord Soth laughing was too clich├ęd--just what was he laughing at? Did he see Riva defeat the draconian? And that would be laugh-worthy?

Also, the writer's knowledge of draconians is a bit sketchy. The draconian casting the web spell is most likely a Bozak draconian, but when Bozak's die, they don't turn to stone (that trait only belongs to the Baaz draconians), instead their bones explode. Also the draconian at the end that takes on the appearance of Riva in death is a Sivak (they are the only ones with that ability). The two draconians in this issue look the same, though in other books and game products, all draconains look different from each other.

While not a great comic, it was a monthly Dragonlance fix at a time when only a few books were being written for the setting.

Jun 8, 2008

Did You Know? Kender

Kender were created for the Dragonlance setting as a replacement for halfings. Tracy Hickman didn't like the idea of a race of thieves (as halfings were thought of at the time) and wanted something different. Harold Johnson, another designer on the Dragonlance project, suggested the idea of them being driven by curiousity instead of greed.

In the 2nd edition source book, Halflings and Gnomes, kender are referenced as an example of convergent evolution, as they arose to "fill the gap" of halfings on this one world.

In addition to Kender, there are also Kendar in the subterranean realm of Chorane near the south pole, Marak Kender on the content of Taladas, and even half-kender. In the Demiplane of Dread known as Ravenloft, there are also kender vampires (which had abilities that were different from the "standard" vampire of 2nd edition).

Jun 4, 2008

Dragonlance - DC Comics - Fantastic 1st Issue

After my recent post about the history of Dragonlance comics, I've been itching to go back an re-read those issues. So here is the a synopsis and review of the first issue.

Issue#1: Fire & Ice

DC/Dragonlance comic, first issueOn his way to Solace, Sturm Brightblade comes across a female warrior in need of help fighting off a band of hobgoblins. Sturm comes to her aid and then carries her to a nearby monastery. At the door steps of the monastery (of Majere), Sturm passes out. When he awakens, Sturm prepares to leave and resume his journey to Solace, first getting his sword that a monk stored in a nearby shed (their order does not allow weapons on their living premises).

After Sturm leaves, Riva finds out that the monk who had been attending them is Vandar Brightblade, Sturm's uncle who was once a knight, but abandoned the knighthood for the monastery. The action then cuts to Lord Soth, who is obviously in Dargaard Keep with a dragon highlord, revealed to be Kitiara. The two are in the middle of some plan of attack that is intended to keep knowledge of the ancient gods hidden.

Cut to a nearby town. A man and woman are preaching about the old gods until they are taken away by local guards. Their son tries to help, but is "accidentally" tripped up by a befuddled old wizard...

Back at the monastery, Riva shows Vandar something she found on a recent adventure, a medallion with the symbol of Majere on it. Vandar immediately recognizes it as a powerful item. Just then, Kitiara, atop her dragon mount, Skie, along with Lord Soth and his undead warriors, attack.

Riva and Vandar are able to escape into the woods. Once there, Vandar uses one of the powers of the medallion to summon an insect swarm, which is able to drive away the attackers. With the monastery burning to the ground, Vandar rushes back in and retrieves a hidden Dragonlance from the same shed Sturm's sword was in earlier.

After that issue done, the last page (typically where the letters column would be) has some game information on things/people mentioned, including stats for Sturm (as of the beginning of the story), information about the clerical order of Majere, and info on some of the magic items shown in the issue.

Commentary

The first issue was off to a great start. We get a "cameo" from one of the key Heroes of the Lance, which also sets the story around the time of the beginning of the first trilogy. Great art for Sturm (even if there is an error with his chainmail on the very first page), Lord Soth, Kit, and Fizban as well as new characters like Riva and Vandar. The stage is set with a couple of stories, that we suspect will all converge in coming issues.

There are a couple of things I didn't like in this first issue. Foremost, the issue expects readers to already have read the first trilogy. Dargaard Keep is never actually mentioned by name, but is easily inferred from the scene. Also, the hobgoblins look more like uncivilized jungle warriors than monstrous humanoids. It's not explained why Vandar doesn't introduce himself to Sturm, who he clearly identifies to Riva as his nephew. Also the opening battle with Sturm and Riva is a bit graphic. Sturm is shown impaling a hobgoblin on his own spear as well as snapping a hobgoblin's neck with his bare hands.

On the other hand, I really liked the stat sheet information at the end of the issue. I wished they had done more of that throughout the series. Vandar and Riva are both very interesting characters, with back stories that make me want to know more about them. Lastly, I liked that the opening story was taking place during the War (one of my favorite time periods) and I was looking forward to following the progression of the war through these new characters.

As I mentioned in the beginning, this issue did a nice job of "setting the board" for the characters we'll be following in later issues.