Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Dragons of Insanity

This morning, I spent far too much time catching up on the news and all the crazy and hate going on. This took more time than I care to spend, because I have to hit multiple sources (and perspectives) to find some sort of non-sensationalized version of reality. It's all so...exhausting

So let's not talk about any of that.

The last few days, I've been "figuring out" what I want to do with my home Dungeons & Dragons game...the only game I'm currently playing at the moment (and the only one I plan on playing any time in the near future). Here's what I've come up with:
  • First off: I'm NOT killing my campaign world. Not yet, and not in any foreseeable way in the future. I've been using Washington State as my "world map," and it still has everything I need: mountain ranges, coastline, forests, deserts, etc. The state's not big enough (in my opinion) for a D&D campaign, but I'm going to increase the scale two or three fold, and that should be enough. We'll see...I can always "go bigger" (i.e. stretch the scale larger).
  • Second off: I've figured out how to incorporate the various inspirations for my campaign (and my favorite "D&Disms") into the world, and it goes back to interdimensionality (briefly mentioned towards the end of this post). See my original idea was for the campaign to be post-apocalyptic in nature, as a PA setting takes care of so many issues (like 'why are their dungeons and ruins all about?' and 'where did all this loose treasure come from?'). It does not, however, account for the sheer abundance and variety of hostility in such a world: humans, being fairly resilient, are going to be able to rebuild much of their original might long before "the monsters take over." And I don't want that; I don't want (human) population density anywhere near a the scale of...well, any time in recorded history. And yet, how to account for D&Dish technology and anachronisms without population density? Answer: transplanted human cultures. These people are "earth folks" (or something similar) somehow brought to this strange mirror world, this Red Earth, three or four generations back. They've been around long enough to establish a solid foothold and adapt to their environment (if "killing hostiles with sword-and-axe" can be considered adaptation), but they haven't quite taken over...yet. Ancient ruins, ripe for exploration, are from fallen nonhuman types (or earlier instances of interdimensional human colonization). Magic is a science developed either pre- or post-arrival, but its origins aren't known at this point...and, frankly, don't matter all that much.
  • AD&D will continue to be the "basic" system for the game, albeit with some mods. But no one cares about those, right? Probably not. Maybe another post.
  • Finally, because of the setting, various old adventure modules can work as static sites or events. Is there an Underdark? Sure. Active volcanoes for places like A3 (Assault on the Aerie of the Slave Lords) and S2 (White Plume Mountain)? Of course...it's the Pac Northwest! Swamps and jungles? Absolutely...all of northern Oregon (the south border or the map) is Amazon-style rainforest in my world, plenty ripe for Forbidden Cities and Lizard King Tombs...just as most of British Columbia is going to be snow and ice, and a good haven for giants of various stripes.
And so it is that the home game will continue, pretty much the same as it was...but with new inspiration breathing life into the thing. I feel...content.

Now...regarding the title of this post: once again returning to Dragonlance territory (cue collective groans), I think that some of the DL problems I've written about in the past disappear if you take the adventures out of the "Krynn" setting as written and throw them into something like what I'm putting together here. For example: Newly arrived humans might NOT have a link to the (spell-granting) "gods/powers" of this new world. Newly arrived humans might indeed value steel over gold (up until they're able to get their own mines up and running). Newly arrived humans may consider dragons to be "fairy tales" right up until they fly in and wreck the joint.

The idea that's currently poking at my brain is similar to my original "reclamation project" (remember that?), but on a much smaller scale...in fact, it would incorporate ONLY the first four adventure modules of the series (DL1 through DL4), leaving even the "lore" of DL 5 off the table. The wilderness maps would be adapted to my fantasy Washington map, and restricting the scope/scale would allow me to place the whole of the thing in central/eastern Washington (no need for Tarsis/Icewall or Solmania, Ergoth, etc.). You've got whatever passes for Solace down to Thorbardin and the Plains of Dust....probably just flip the whole map 90 degrees...and then pick your most likely origin point of a conquering Dragon Army. Probably the Idaho Deathlands (as they're called in my world). Easy-shmeasy.

Of course, I wouldn't be running the thing as a four-part adventure/story arc/railroad. The four modules will (for my purposes) simply be the scope of a single adventure scenario in its entirety. We've got A) a bunch of places (tree town, elf town, dwarf fortress, etc.), B) a timetable of events (culled from the first couple modules), C) logistics/tactics of the Bad Army (culled from the last couple modules), D) a number of adventure sites (floating citadels, demolished wizard fortress, ruined swamp city, etc.), and E) already named and numbered NPCs requiring a minimal amount of extra polish. 

Bow down.
Hell, perhaps I'll ignore the entirety of the "4th Dragon War" background and simply play it out as "Verminaard's Grab At Conquest." I mean: evil high priest, right? The NPC is already an 8th level "patriarch;" just make Pax Tharkas his stronghold, populate it with the usual fanatically loyal minions and henchmen (see PHB p. 20 and DMG p. 16), and then add delusions of grandeur (er..."conquest in the name of [deity]"). With an adult red dragon henchman (Ember acts too immature to really consider him "very old"), the dude has a good shot at carving out a little empire for himself and his followers.

To me, that all sounds, well, refreshing. How many adventures have we seen over the years that had evil-aligned cultists, sitting in their temple/lair, minding their own business, etc. just waiting for PC adventurers to show up and murder/loot them? More than a few, right? I mean, even my recently acquired The Red Prophet Rises has its cultists not doing much of anything besides self-bloodletting and a little demonic conjuration...what's the big deal? Indifferent PCs can simply move on, and the cult will (more-or-less) resolve itself with extreme prejudice. The part about the village raids and slave-taking all occurred prior to the PCs involvement...it's just background chatter.

And that's what's fun about Dragonlance...rather than passive observers, the player characters get swept up in the war. It's not just their (fictional) hometown and (NPC) families that are getting wrecked...and for whom a real life player may have little empathy. The PCs themselves are threatened with death and/or enslavement by an invading army. That's neat! And it motivates them to do stuff like find demihuman allies or lost magical gear that might help them against a force that's overwhelming.

Dig it.

Anyway, that's the most recent stuff going on with my homebrew stuff. If I do decide to go down that road, I'll probably post some notes here. Later, folks!
: )


  1. JB, gaming with adults will soon(ish) be a thing... and not the weak tea online substitute, which I've done. I like reading your critical thinking on this hobby of ours... it definitely shines light on pitfalls, tripes and rote that I have often fallen into. That said, the game played with appreciative friends is better than the game imagined / wished-for but not played. Hopefully we can meet at DragonFlight again, or elsewhere before too long, and roll them bones! -Travis

    1. I am very hopeful Sir Rob...if not this year, then certainly next!

      Thanks for the kind words.

    2. "not the weak tea online substitute"

      So, so true. I can't wait to game in person. I am tired of having to run my game with one hand tied behind my back and weights around my ankles.

  2. Regarding your PA observations, I think you give too much credit to human resilience.

    The end of the bronze age was an astonishing collapse of civilization that lasted centuries (interestingly, they can measure this in the geological records. The mining of silver was basically wholly dormant in this period for example).

    And we can see throughout history and the world that humankind can exist for many centuries in low densities and little technological and cultural advancement, despite no absence of tillable land and resources.

    Add into this mix competitive species, such as orcs, hobgoblins etc. and I think it is really quite easy to picture mankind failing to reach the critical mass needed to expand and advance.

    Everyone seems to live Medieval Demographics Made Easy as a rule of thumb, but it utterly fails to model population densities of the early middle ages and less developed regions of northern and eastern europe. 14th century France has very little comparison with 5th century Britain or Scandinavia. Or 12th century Russia (where, despite a very low population density, urbanisation was quite high, as the wilderness was simply that thick). And of course, one should factor in on top that much of this estimated population will be competing species in a fantasy world.

    I am ranting a bit, but my point is simply that there is plenty of real world examples of PA settings that match well to fantasy PA. Sub-roman britain always reminds me of the Wilderlands of High Fantasy for example.

    1. I am neither a historian nor an academic (well, other than one of the "armchair" variety), so I can't/won't dispute what you're saying Anders.

      What I *will* say is that the way I'm working it makes more sense to me. Even in a technological collapse, I imagine there is a "rebound" affect of sorts. Did the collapse of the bronze age throw folks back into the stone age? Was there no memory of "what had been" and attempts to recreate it, using substitute tech?

      Besides this gives me a reason for a world filled with humanoids (it's not our actual planet/dimension) most of whom are hostile to humans.
      ; )

  3. It seems like the the Power of the Nap have elevated you to a new high! I dig it too.

    1. My dogs have recently taken to waking me up before 5am. Since I'm generally awake till midnight, finding 20-30 minutes here or there to catch a quick nap has been essential to my mental health.

      Just imagine what I'd be able to come up with on a full night's sleep!
      : )

  4. Sounds like a lot of fun to me! I would be rather curious to see how you incorporate DL adventures into your PA world.

    I personal never had the problem with DragonLance that others seem to have, BUT I also have never tried running any of the adventures. I am actually using the "Tanglewood Keep" adventure from DL15 Mists of Krynn. This is the very first DL adventure I have EVER run. Even then I am cheating and the characters are in Krynn for a stint rather than this taking place in my world.

    Hmm...this gives me an idea. Hold up, need to knock a post together!