Monday, April 29, 2019

W is for White Dragons

[over the course of the month of April, I shall be posting a topic for each letter of the alphabet, sequentially, for every day of the week except Sunday. Our topic for this year's #AtoZchallengeRevamping the Grand Duchy of Karameikos in a way that doesn't disregard its B/X roots. I got behind by a couple days because of the Easter weekend, but I'm trying to catch up as quickly as possible]

W is for White Dragons. Well, white drakes, actually.

Okay, I'm just going to have to blaze through these last four. Apologies in advance.

I've written a bit about adventure module B3: Palace of the Silver Princess in a prior post, most of which was less than complimentary. Fine, sorry. While the adventure's not great, there's some background stuff in Moldvay's rewrite of the Jean Wells original version, that's rather interesting, such as:

Arik of the Hundred Eyes: an ancient, evil being worshipped as a god (there's a chaotic cleric in the module trying to break him out of his mystic prison).

Eyes of Arik: giant, magic rubies of uncertain powers, said to be the eyes of Arik.

Faerie: a "highly magical realm" inside which "time has little meaning." Faerie is a land of peace, harmony, and eternal happiness, populated by The Protectors (translucent green elf-like beings) and "certain High Elves" (whatever that means).

Knights of the White Drakes: a group of fighters that ride white dragons; both riders and mounts are dedicated to the destruction of evil.

"The Protectors"
Moldvay was writing (rather, re-writing) in 1981 and his adventure has a lot of what I'd call "B/X flavor;" it has a bunch of coloring outside the lines, draws heavily from pulp, and fictional sources, and doesn't attempt to make a whole lot of sense in terms of rules and regulations. Moldvay (author of the B/X Basic book) isn't afraid to take things "off the rails," and even though it's got a higher level of morality and "force" against players than I prefer, it's still neither a railroad, nor the codified vanilla fantasy of later publications.

Moldvay doesn't say anything about where the Valley of Haven is (other than it being a kingdom surrounded by "the Thunder Mountains") but Frank Mentzer's Expert set places it smack-dab in the middle of eastern Karameikos, at the southern end of the Altan Tepes mountains, just north of the eastern forests (home of the Vyalia elves). This he does without explanation and context, which is (I suppose) par for the course in some ways...but even without the geographical inconsistency (no valley, no Thunder Mountains), it's yet another slap in the face of Wells, who included a full map (illustrated by the author) of the region, clearly located northwest of the Principalities of Glantri and, yes, even including the Thunder Mountains. The map is one of several illustrations cut mysteriously from the rewrite, despite a total lack of anything that might be deemed "offensive;" maybe the town of "Dead Mule?"

Anyway, as I said in the earlier post on the subject of B3, I lack the time or inclination to re-write either module at the moment, but if I did, I'd probably remove it entirely from Karameikos, and put it where it's supposed to be (as its background...with a recent faerie disaster...makes absolutely no sense in the timeline of the Grand Duchy). However, I wouldn't mind re-purposing the "Castellan Keep" icon on the map (remember, I want to move the actual Keep on the Borderlands to the Duke's Road Keep) as the stronghold of the Knights of the White Drakes. Because fighters mounted on white dragons is kind of cool (and makes more sense in an area infested by Frost Giants).

Something like this.
Here's the thing about white dragons: in B/X they are NEUTRAL in alignment, neither chaotic, nor evil (as they are in AD&D and subsequent editions). That gives a lot of opportunity for interesting stuff, especially if Knights have zero allegiance to Duke Stefan, the conquering Thyatians, or the indigenous Traladarans. I see them more of an ancient, Druid-like order...and their idea of what constitutes "evil" may be very different from that of "civilized" Archduke. Dressed in antique white scale mail (forged from the carapace of their fallen brethren), the White Drake Brotherhood is half legendary, only venturing forth from their mountain lair when drawn by strange portents and celestial events. Sometimes they bring needed aid to communities threatened by monsters and ravenous humanoids, sometime they bring icy death and destruction to innocent villages who have somehow "upset the natural order."

Interesting that Sir Ellis the Strong (the one Knight detailed in B3) is only a 3rd level fighter...clearly there is something more than Name level status or prowess of arms that are necessary for indoctrination into their Order. Perhaps one must simply brave the giant-infested mountains and find the Knights' secret fortress. Perhaps it is a brotherhood bound by blood ties (and only a relative may heed the call). Perhaps only individuals of the correct psychic thought patterns may bond with their dragon mounts. Who knows...certainly the DM will need to decide on what, if any, road to initiation is available to player characters. However, Sir Ellis himself may be something of an apostate, leaving his fellow knights to marry a fairy princes, ritually blackening his armor to show his self-exile from their glacial stronghold.

All right. X is next.

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