Thursday, December 20, 2018


Four days?! Have I really gone four days without a post?

Welp, the holidays are well and truly upon us. I'm leaving town (heading to Mexico for what may be my last trip south for a LONG while) and I've been running around trying to get everything squared away for Christmas. Combined with fighting my annual bronchitis (and the morning grogginess that comes from chugging NyQuil) I just haven't had time to sit down and write.

[well, I did spend one morning writing several scathing paragraphs about Douglas Niles, but in the spirit of Christmas decided it would be best not to publish those remarks. Suffice is to say that Against the Cult of the Reptile God remains the only highlight of his TSR my opinion]

All right, time to play out the string. This should PROBABLY be my last DL post for the foreseeable future.

At the beginning of most every DragonLance adventure (I don't recall one that doesn't...and I ended up reading through all of DL1-DL15 over the last couple weeks), the author takes pains to point out that the Krynn setting has several "important differences" from the standard AD&D play:

1. Gold has no value in the world (except that, in later modules, it has some value outside the starting region of the DL campaign).

2. Clerical spells have not existed for 300 years (though they become available to both characters and antagonists beginning with the second module in the series...still it colors NPCs attitudes toward clerics).

3. Dragons haven't been seen for a thousand years and are considered a myth (though this also changes following the first module as dragons run rampant over the setting).

4. Halflings are unknown in Krynn; instead they are replaced by the Kender race.

Thanks to the popularity of Tolkien, "Hobbit-equivalents" have been found in fantasy gaming since the very beginning. OD&D originally had them (available as a fighting class with a maximum level of four...probably the most accurate modeling of the species ever to see print). DragonQuest makes them a more balanced adventurer (though still with tongue-in-cheek references to LotR). Palladium uses "gnomes" to fill the same ecosystem (I've see other RPGs use "brownie" in the same way). Warhammer Fantasy has perhaps my favorite depiction of the handling species (with the snarky wit typical of all GW games, they are grubby, gluttonous thieves and low-lives). As a fantasy race, the halfling is as ubiquitous as elves and dwarves.

The kender is the first re-skinning that really steps far from the hobbit archetype.

Kender look like "wizened 14-year olds" and unlike halflings (hobbits) they wear shoes. They are described as having an insatiable curiosity, and no real sense of property ownership (they tend to "borrow" anything they find interesting that isn't nailed down). They have two system/rule-based abilities: they are immune to fear (magical or otherwise), and they have the ability to taunt others (save versus spells or incite folks to attack with reckless abandon...and substantial penalties) with "verbal abuse."

The model for the 3E "halfling."
It's basically a character class that models your annoying little sibling who you forced to play a halfling thief, because no one else wanted to play one in a campaign setting that features a war against dragons and a profound lack of treasure (because, hey, gold is worthless).

Kleptomaniac, annoying children...empowered to stick their noses into trouble, steal shit that doesn't belong to them, and irritate people with a special mind control power. In the books, kender make a nice bit of comic relief from the grim-dark melodrama and hopeless odds of the setting. In gaming? Well...

As I wrote earlier, we never actually played in the DL setting, or ran any of the modules. However, we have halfling thieves in our campaign whose personality and behavior was modeled fairly substantially off the kender. Well, one was...the other one was closer to a gully dwarf (being a bit slower of wit). Here's the thing, though: both were NPCs in the campaign, run by the same DM (not me). Both were played (mostly), for comic relief, though they never upstaged the other PCs. One (the dim-witted one) was, in fact, the henchman of another PC and was both fiercely loyal and affectionate to her (though being none-too-competent). The other was more-or-less Tasslehoff in all but name (his name was "Mouse," for the record), but far more helpful than a hindrance.

Neither of these displayed any of the "kender skills:" they didn't taunt (at least, as a system for taking control of someone), they weren't immune to fear ("Shorty" the henchman was quite the coward), they didn't use "hoopaks" for weapons. They were curious and they did acquire a lot of items with their light fingers (all of which were stored in their multiple, bulging belt pouches)...and they did speak (squeakily) in a childlike fashion with a kender's wide-eyed innocence.

[and...on rare occasion...act as a deus ex machina. Well, one time at least: when Mouse liberated MY character from an eternity of torment at the hands of Lolth. However, I was left to rot (literally and figuratively) for several months prior to rescue]

But that was just a choice of how our DM wanted to run halflings in her campaign. None of the players were running halflings (well, only my kid brother who...once...ran the guy as an annoying, klepto-style, as only a 10-year old brat can do. And, no, he never read the DragonLance books. That character was a thief-acrobat...) so she was re-skinning simply to make the race interesting as an NPC. After all, we were slavishly devoted to the Rules As Written in those simply CUT halflings (or paladins or monks or whatever) from the game, even though no one ever used them, was unthinkable to us. Better for us to find some way to make use of their existence in D&D.

So, I guess I have a bit of a soft-spot for kender...not as a playable race, but as an NPC personality. I enjoyed Tas in the DragonLance books, and I enjoyed Mouse in his similar role as an occasional traveling companion (he did not accompany us on ALL our adventures...he was more of a campaign personality that would wander into our party from time-to-time). Unfortunately, I don't think there are many people who could pull off playing a kender-type...either as a PC or even as an NPC. I'm pretty certain I couldn't; I just don't have the whimsical humor necessary to portray such a character (maybe I'm too mean-spirited).

If I were to run a DragonLance campaign (and at this point, I've all but decided against the idea), I would include kender as a B/X-style class. Fear immunity would simply be a +2 bonus to saves and/or Morale (there are plenty of times in the novels that Tasslehoff acts in all the ways as someone who is nervous, scared, or paralyzed with fright, despite his statements to the contrary). They'd all receive some thief skills (notably picking pockets and locks...probably with a substantial bonus), but they'd receive a negative reaction with most intelligent species in Krynn (after all, not all humans are thieves, but all kender...well, they do have a reputation).

Taunting would work differently: a kender would be able to force a reaction roll, and could apply their Charisma adjustment as a NEGATIVE, even if normally positive (a low CHA kender would apply their reaction normally). Creatures incensed to fight would suffer a penalty to attack (probably not AC). Other PCs would be immune to this sort of thing, as would NPCs with more levels/HD than the kender (and I would limit kender to eight levels of experience, just like the halfling class they'd replace in B/X).

I'd probably remove the halfling bonus to missile combat (leave the AC bonus), and would use their stealth ability for any type of "sneaky thief skill" (move silent, etc.)...all kender would have the same chance to be unobtrusive, regardless of level. Wearing metal armor would negate these bonuses/abilities, of lenders clinking around in plate armor should be able to sneak up on someone and rob 'em.

Personally, I think such a species works far better in a B/X-based campaign. Despite being written for AD&D, nearly all the protagonists are "single class," and all are pretty "basic;" even the elves in the DL adventure modules are all of the fighter/magic-user type (with the exception of Laurana). Only the Plainsman, Riverwind, uses a non-B/X class (he's a ranger), and he's easily converted to a straight fighter (he never uses any ranger abilities in the novels anyway).

Hmm...maybe I will write another DL post, just to do some conversion notes for folks who like the idea of B/X DragonLance.

But not today. I'm leaving my house around 6am tomorrow and I've got lot still to do (including packing). I'm not sure I'll be taking my laptop (which would be a first), but even if I do, I'm not sure I'll be blogging again before the New Year. If you don't hear from me...well, hopefully you'll all have a happy, happy one (I'm pulling for ya!). I'll be back for sure in 2019.

Later, Gators!
: )


  1. I think when Fifth Age comes around, kender get split into two sub-races, one of which can feel fear, but I don't remember what the trade-off was for giving up that immunity.

  2. I liked the proposed Kender rules in the 5E playtest. I don't remember if it was immunity or just advantage on saves vs fear, but for the klepto thing they had a system to roll and see if you had something useful in your pouches if you needed something not on your sheet.

  3. I'm really curious about what you have to say about Mr. Niles.

    1. @ Jonathan N.:

      I didn't have much positive to say, I'm afraid. He did a LOT of work for TSR "back in the day," and much of it (to me) is very inconsistent. The DL stuff really brought it home to me (he penned a lot of modules...and I even read one of Niles's novels this week while researching), but looking back over his other gaming credits I see many disappointments: Top Secret/SI, Knight Hawks, Bloodstone Pass, etc.

      It's tough to be entirely critical because he does have the occasional brilliant (or semi-brilliant) idea. I like the Thanoi folks in DL6 (for example), just NOT for the DragonLance setting. And he's inconsistent with his own writings/adventures, which was especially irritating (contrast the way Ariakus is treated by Hickman/Weiss in the novels, with how he's written for the modules by Niles, with how Niles writes him for his own have three completely different characters!).

      But what am I saying? He had a career in gaming for decades, with plenty of credits under his belt. Who am I to criticize? Still, I can't help but notice that (per Wikipedia) he came to TSR as a writer, not as a game designer...

  4. My gaming buddies and I had a brief side-campaign of an all short-guy martial arts campaign. The main villain was the Kublai-Kender and his 1000 kleptomaniac sons.

  5. I originally shared this thought on the Piazza forums back in 2016:
    My first glimpse into the Dragonlance setting was DL1 Dragons of Despair probably in the Fall of 1984. It was pointed out on this blog that the ONLY description of Kender in that adventure was as follows:
    "The equivalent of a halfling in this world is called a Kender. Kender look like wizened 14-year-olds and, unlike halflings, they wear shoes."
    I was twelve at the time and in middle school with plenty of 14-year-olds, none of which were 3 feet 9 inches tall.

    Did anyone else take this to mean that Kender were supposed to be the same size as human teenagers?

    The art at the time was hardly helpful. The cover of Dragons of Winter Night showed Tas sitting hunched on a rock possibly in the foreground, but possibly even with the Blue Lady. My estimation puts Tas at over 4 feet tall compared to the two women. Even Elmore's titular "Dragonlance" painting puts Tas well above Tanis' belt-level.

    DL5 Dragons of Mystery finally dispelled my notion by giving Tas a definite height of 3'9". (Although Laurana and Gilthanis seem a bit tall for elves at 5'6" and 5'8", respectively.)

    I'm NOT suggesting that Kender were MEANT to be taller.....I'm just wondering if anyone shared this notion.

    1. I suppose when they wrote "wizened" they meant more like "shriveled" or "shrunken"...i.e. a miniature 14-year old rather than a teen-sized old man.

      I never actually READ any of the DL modules until I was an adult; going solely off the description in the novels, I never got the 14-year old line.

      The elves in DL are exceptionally tall for AD&D standards. Per the DMG, maximum height for a male elf is 5'6"; max height for a female elf is 5'. Laurana would be considered freakishly tall for her species.