Sep 19, 2008

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 12) - The Arena of Istar

Blood Brothers

The Arena of Istar part 4This issue starts off with Tanis and Bas-Ohn Horak getting ready to fight Maquesta and Bas-Ohn Koraf in the arena. As we know from issue 11, Maquesta and Koraf are the current champions of the games, and the medallions they wear are actually ancient magic items that the cleric Loralon is seeking.

During the fight, Tanis and Maquesta face off, while the two minotaur brothers fight each other, while the sea turtles watch the games from a glass dome and the ghosts of the citizens of ancient Istar watch from the stands they filled centuries ago. Elsewhere, Loralon and the sea elf begin working on their part of the plan, by opening a crack in the wall that starts to floor the city.

During the fight we learn that Maquesta blames Tanis for her ending up in Istar, and doesn't offer any mercy to her former friend. As the battle continues, Tanis disables and kills her. Meanwhile, the two minotaurs fight with Horak choking Koraf with the chain from the champion medallion he wears.

Just then, Loralon appears and casts a spell causing several more sea elves to appear in the arena. As cracks appear in the area dome, Loralon casts a mass water breathing spell. Loralon also uses the medallions to keep the dragon turtles at bay while they swim to the surface.

On the surface, Loralon uses the medallions to create a flying water-elemental (shaped like a giant eagle) to take Tanis, Horak, and himself back to the minotaur island.

Cut to Kitiara and her dragon army. She reveals that the minotaurs have refused an alliance with her, so she plans to attack their city. Powerful air, fire, and water elementals repel the dragon army.

Back on land we see Horak wearing the two medallions. He reveals that the minotaurs have declined the offers from the dragonarmy as well as that of the knights of Solomnia. With the medallions in the possession of the minotaurs, they will use them only for defence and be able to remain neutral. Tanis and Horak shake.

The last page shows two maps, the continent of Ansalon before and after the cataclysm.

Commentary

Hands down, this has to be the worst issue of the comic so far. There were a few bits of art that were interesting (especially the ghost citizens of Istar), but the plot was completely missing.

The sea elf who is helping Loralon only seems to be there to start a crack in the wall. It seems like Loralon should have been able to do that without the aid of the elf and her little dagger. But at least she gets to speak (somewhat) and sort of do something, the sea elves summoned later in the issue, seem to stand around ready to fight no one in particular. I can't see what purpose they served in Loralon's "plan". Nor do I see what flooding the jail cell did, since it was a crack in the area dome that lead to everyone's escape.

Another thing that really bothers me with this issue is the idea that Tanis would disable Maquesta and then kill her as she lies prone and defenseless on the ground. There was no reason that Maquesta or Koraf had to die... they both wanted to leave Istar like everyone else, and Loralon could have done that without the death of the two champions.

Also, Loralon wanted to retrieve the items, but at the end of the issue, they end up with the minotaurs with no explanation. And lastly, we get a small image of Riva on the last page (no dialog). With an arc that started out seemingly focused on her, she had no part in the story, nor did Kitiara really, for that matter.

Overall the arc started out with potential, but got worse and worse as the issues continued, until this last one. Back when these issues first came out, I was a dragonlance collector. If I was buying these today, I don't think I would have continued past this arc.

Next Time: I'm going to take a break from the old DC comics and read and review the first of two issue of the new Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons comic, featuring an adaptation of the Weis and Hickman short story, The Legacy.

Sep 15, 2008

Darkness and Light: The Secret

After defeating the demon dragon previously, the party spent a couple of days in the city of Dun Eamon. Due to their flashy entrance (it's not everyday a party of adventures shows up at the city gates with a dead large red dragon), their reputation preceded them throughout town.

Staying once again at the Market Tavern, they found all manner of townsfolk interested in hearing their tale, not the least of which was the serving girl, Molly, who seemed to have developed a little crush for the half-elf ranger. Whenever she had the chance (usually when she should be working), the young girl would sit and listen to Hunter's stories and talk about her own dreams of being an adventurer one day soon.

While the defeat of the dragon was a great accomplishment, it still didn't bring them any closer to finding the Gem of Amara, and that meant going back to the temple ruins. On the night before leaving, Bergin visited the bathhouse for a long soak and a massage, this time joined by the monk.

After a few days journey, the party was once again underground. They checked a few rooms they hadn't searched before and found an empty living quarters and another filed with various (clearly stolen) religious items, including a small statue to Zivilyn and a few coin boxes used to collect for the poor.

As they were about to enter another room, they heard some noises from inside. Cautiously, the party opened the door and found an ogre looting through whatever belonging had been in the room. The ogre and his companions, a pair of slightly snake-like humanoids (known as a "slig" in the Dragonlance setting) turned toward the open door. After a few tense moments, the ogre spoke claiming that "Me here first, this all mine!"

It seems in the time the party was away from the ruins, one or two (or three) wanders came down here looking for easy loot. The party was willing to let the ogre keep the trinkets he picked up, and even traded a few of their things for a parchment. It contained some spells that were useless to the simple behemoth. The room also had an ancient torture device, a well in the floor, where people were chained by the wrists and left to dangle in the cramped, dank space. They even found a skeleton still attached to a set of manacles, the poor soul having probably been left to starve to death all those decades ago...

Afterward, as the party continued looking for the gem, they noticed an elaborate stone mosaic on the floor, outside the dragon's lair. While bits and pieces of it had been destroyed over the years, enough remained to show an elaborate procession of monks carrying fallen members along a hallway and into a great chamber. In the chamber, atop a huge stepped dais, the head of the order conducted a ceremony over a dead monk. Beyond the chamber, the dead cleric was stripped of clothing, flesh, and finally bones before it's spirit moved on to the river of souls.

As the party looked the mosaic, they realized the great chamber was one of the underground rooms, the one with strange evenly spaced holes in the walls. It turns out those holes were used to anchor a huge wooden stage to the back wall, a stage that had collapsed or been torn down in the intervening years. While the party did search for secret doors and passages, when the search the back wall of this room, they were looking 10 too low.

With this new information, the party returned to the domed room and this time was able to find a hidden passage. Once inside this new area the ground was much cleaner and ancient magical lights still illuminated the hallways... clearly this part of the ruins hadn't been explored in years...

Sep 5, 2008

Dragonlance Comics (Issue 11) - The Arena of Istar

Cataclysm!

The Arena of Istar part 3Once again, we pick up right after the end of the last issue. We see Tanis roughing up Loralon and trying to learn the elven cleric's plan. It seems Loralon was in Istar at the time of the Cataclysm (a fact that surprises Tanis) and is now trying to retrieve powerful artifacts lost during that fateful time.

Tanis, who's always been skeptical of the gods, sees little value in Loralon's quest. To help convince Tanis, Loralon takes the ranger into his memories to see what actually happenend all those years ago...

Elsewhere, we see Maquesta and Bas-ohn Koraf practicing and the minotaur proclaiming that nothing, including his brother, would stand in his way of winning their freedom.

Meanwhile, Tanis and the "elf-of-cataclysm-past" continue there look back at the events leading up the the destruction of Istar, including the hubris of the kingpriest.

Back in the present, a female sea elf (with an outfit straight out of a Fredrick's of Hollywood catalog) is tossed in the cell for trying to break into Istar. Turns out she is somehow part of Loralon's plan, but he doesn't elaborate.

For the last trip down memory lane, Tanis AND Horak accompany Loralon. Tanis sees Fizban (an aspect of the god Paladine) visibly upset at what is happening. Tanis sees first hand that it was the people who abandoned the gods, not the other way around as was commonly believed.

With a fresh perspective on the situation, Tanis now wants to know just what Loralon is looking for in the ruins of Istar. The cleric describes a pair of artifacts called "starstones", which it turns out are part of the medallions that Maquesta and Koraf wear as champions of the gladiatorial arena.

Just then, Koraf appears outside their cell to inform his brother that they will fight in the arena tomorrow and that it will be a fight to the death.

Commentary

As I've said before, Dan Simmons is really doing a great job on art for this arc. The flashback scenes are well detailed and the splash page of the fiery mountain destroying Istar is one of the best images of the event.

As great as the art is, unfortunately it doesn't make up for the weak plot. As I've said before, since I was already familiar with the cataclysm from the novels, I didn't need most of the issue retelling me things I already knew. For me this issue was just filler before the inevitable fight between Tanis and Horak against Maquesta and Koraf.

Note... One thing I didn't pick on, art-wise, is the minotaur hoof issue. The earliest art for minotaurs still had them with hoofs. When this comic came out, that was probably the official image. It wouldn't be till much later that books, stories, and art would show the minotaurs with human legs and feet.

Sep 4, 2008

Darkness and Light: The Return

After having gone to the city of Dun Eamon to resupply and rest, the party returned to the temple ruins to confront the demonic red dragon lurking below.

The party cautiously crept though the same passages and hallways they previously explored. In short order they found themselves in the same open hallway where they first encountered the dragon.

Initially it seemed as if the dragon may have left this lair. Exploring the far end of the passage, they found a door that was all but falling off it's ancient hinges and singed from various fires and covered in huge gaping gouges in the heavy wood. Peering inside, the floor seemed to be covered from wall to wall in coins, silver bars, gems and all manner of treasures. The appearance of what clearly looked like the dragon's horde put everyone on edge... the beast was still here somewhere.

They didn't have long to ponder that question before the hall filled with the rushing air and flapping wings of a large red dragon. As it passed overhead, it rained fire down on the party before disappearing back into the shadows. As the party regrouped, it appeared as though the dragon would lay in wait, but a few moments later it flew out again landing in front of the party and unleashing it's vast array of attacks.

As the battle raged, the party unleashed all manner of weapons and spells while the dragon used it's formidable claws, teeth and even wings in retaliation.

As Adow lay on the ground dying, and the rest of the part seriously wounded, Hunter activated the mystical knots Greybear had given then before leaving the party in Dun Eamon. Cool blue light covered Adow, Theo, Jes, Bergin and Hunter healing all their wounds and restoring their vitality. With renewed energy, the party was able to continue attacking the fiendish dragon, felling the creature without further injury.

With the dragon dead, the party created a make-shift slede-cart to transport the dragon's body, and it's formidable treasure horde back to Dun Eamon. After a few days travel, they returned to the city. Everyone was agape as they lead a cart overflowing with coins and gems through the town, not to mention, carrying the dead body of large dragon.

The party was able to return to Elinda Bannon's tower and offered the dragon body as a gift for her previous assistance (they also returned the magic items she had leant them). In exchange, Elinda also kept their treasures safe while in the city.

Though the dragon was dead, the party wasn't any closer to finding the one known key to destroying the Black Scourge... what other dangers might be standing between them and the Gem of Amara?

Sadly, this post does not do the actual game session justice. The battle was close, and there was more than one time where a character would have been dead (dead-dead and not just unconscious and bleeding) if not for a quickly consumed potion, or a timely cure spell.

By the end of the session, the players, and not just their characters, looked exhausted and relieved the battle was over. As a DM, I knew I did my job right... at least for that session!