Friday, May 28, 2021

Messing With NPCs

The god-killing series will continue, despite the crickets heard around my most recent post. While I was originally going to start writing Part 3 this morning, my "favorite" web site for pirated adventure modules is currently down (as happens from time-to-time), which means I'll have to dig my original hardcopies out of the closet in the office...a time-consuming task I just don't have the enthusiasm for at the moment. Have you read the Bloodstone modules? They are...not good. And I don't relish the re-read just for an excerpt or two.

[actually, it's not's the prospect of digging out five to six modules, including N2, B4, D1-2, and G1-3, in addition to H2 and H4. Maybe WG4 and D3. All of them are in a pantry, behind boxes of office supplies, book inventory, and crates of tax stuff and moving all that...and then putting it going to be a tall order. Plus, my wife will be on video calls in there most of the day, and I don't want to be a pain in her ass]

But it's Friday Funday (as mis ninos call it) so I might as well write something for the weekend.

The kids (my players) continue to delve deeper into the swamp. I have to say that writing (well, re-writing) and running Dragonlance puts me in a fey mood. Ideas keep popping into my head about how to mess with it. This morning, for instance, when the dogs woke me up at 4:30am (maybe that's part of my mood...) I had a "great" idea for re-skinning the prisoner NPCs in the DL adventures: I'll just use the pre-gen DL heroes.

Okay, okay...let's slow down a moment and lay this all out in a way for pleasant mental digestion.

See, in re-writing Dragons of Despair (well, the dungeon anyway), I've done away with the vast bulk of the DL "fluff" of the adventure series. There's no epic story, no Queen of Darkness on Earth, no capital-H Heroes with a Destiny-To-Fulfill, no Berem the Everman. And, of course, none of that other DL-specific stuff: draconians, taunting kender, steel coins, divine abandonment. I am NOT, after all, playing Dragonlance. I am playing Dungeons & Dragons. The DL adventures just happen to have both A) dungeons, and B) dragons and all I'm doing is repurposing them. Capisce?

One nice thing that BIG adventure modules tend to do (and DL1's Xak Tsaroth IS a "big" dungeon...even more so now that I'm stocking it with actual encounters) is the inclusion of the occasional NPC prisoner/hostage who are willing to join a party if freed. This is a classic D&D trope, and is a great way of adding "beef" (meat shields) to a party or replacing downed also telegraphs 'hey, these monsters will accept surrender and take prisoners...don't feel you need to fight to the death!' DL1's dungeon provides THREE such NPCs: a 3rd level kender thief named Hugon Barker and two 2nd level Que-Shu fighters named Sunstar and Raven-Eye.

[fun fact: as kids, my buddy Matt's long-time cleric was named "Sunstarr" (with two "r's"). His character was created looooong before DL1 was published. His PC was also male, not female]

But those guys are all lame...devoid of any explicit traits or personality. And I've still got half a dozen pre-written characters from Weiss and Hickman to play with (remember, Caramon and Raistlin have already joined the party as NPCs; Kitiara bugged out after the whole Forest Oracle debacle). So, I'm thinking of cutting the NPCs as written and instead substituting three nonhumans from Wenatchee: Tasslehoff the halfling, Flint the dwarf, and Tanis the half-elf. Of course, I'll have to skin them a bit to make 'em even more interesting, right?
  • "Flinty" (dwarf thief, 3rd level): elderly curmudgeon, looking for one last Big Score. Not particularly interested in dying (i.e. cowardly), but knows his adventuring days are coming to a close and would really like a comfortable retirement (i.e. will take foolhardy risks for chance at REAL treasure). Not interested in hypotheticals...must be something he can see and touch. Looks on Tanis and Hasslehoff as surrogate kids.
  • Hasslehoff Birchbark (halfling druid, 3rd level): cheerful and talkative, often past the point of usefulness (i.e. gets in trouble because of mouth). Enjoys going new places, seeing new things, meeting people. Has sticky fingers and "borrows" small items not nailed down (has bulging belt pouches). Would rather talk than fight. Considers Flint and Tanis family, and feels he must care for them and help them "lighten up."
  • Tanis Red-Beard (half-elf assassin, 3rd level): he's good at what he does, but what he does isn't very nice. Has a lot of emotional baggage about his past (i.e. doesn't like to talk about it), instead always trying to focus on the task at hand. Shrewd and practical. NOTE: my campaign seems to see a lot of half-elf assassins; perhaps that's a "thing" in this world. Tanis looks on Flint as a father-figure, Hassle as a younger brother.
All NPCs have 4,001 x.p.; ability scores are as per DL1 save that Hassle switches DEX and CHA scores. Equipment is mostly as per DL1 (without the magic weapons); Hassle uses a quarterstaff, not a "hoopak."

Duke VanUz first attempted to hire these three adventurers a couple weeks before making the acquaintance of the PCs. They refused his offer of patronage and instead attempted to find the Sunken City on their own. Unfortunately (for them) they did...and were promptly captured by hobgoblins. Both Tanis and Flinty have been able to escape, but Flinty was recaptured (is being held in The Larder, #65a) and Tanis is hiding near the falls (#67b), seeking for a way to re-equip himself and rescue his companions. Meanwhile, Hasslehoff is being held in the palace (#70g), where he provides amusement to Matabannik, the ogre-mage who is both City Lord and right-hand man of Onyx. The dragon has no use for the halfling's mindless prattle (she prefers the comforts of food, treasure, and luxury), but the ogre-mage has spent most of the last two centuries starved for company (hobgoblins are useless for intellectual entertainment and Onyx isn't much of a conversationalist)...the talkative druid is a welcome respite from the drudgery of scheming and plotting (not to mention drilling and managing the city's humanoid population).

[EDIT: decided to change Tasslehoff's first name to "Hasslehoff." I told you: I'm in a fey mood this morning]

Dirty, dirty half-elf
Reading over these, I'm finding myself kind of delighted. I think there was a part of me that figured I would never need or use such saccharine sweet goody-goody PCs as the Dragonlance crew in a "normal" D&D game, but they're actually pretty easy to skin as regular adventurers. I mean, they are regular adventurers, but they often (in the fiction of the novels) don't act like regular adventurers. Tasslehoff is a pretty useless thief, for example, Flint never comes off as "6th level fighter," Raistlin acts all tough with his silver dagger while never actually casting a fireball or lightning bolt, and then all the moralizing and pathos and melodrama that passes for conversation ("conversation" itself passing for "adventure"). Can't they just trudge through the wilderness in silence?

But I realize I'm being silly (and digressing)...the point is, I like these guys as potential NPC followers, and I like the various NPC bad guys I've created as well (got about six of those). The black dragon may actually be the most boring of the bunch, but I see dragons as kind of lazy creatures...they're so big and powerful that they're inclined to be slack and arrogant unless there's another one of their kind around. Onyx (haven't bothered to rename her) isn't the mayor over "sunken town:" she's the goddess, worshipped by the humanoid monsters both in the swamp (i.e. the lizard folk) and those living beneath its surface. She's like a cat...a gigantic, scaly, acid-breathing cat, lazily reclining on her hoard, expecting her people to feed her, taking long naps, and generally lording it over everyone from a prone position.

I got rid of the hatchling black dragons, just by the way...Onyx doesn't have a mate so why would there be hatchlings? And why would Onyx have left her brood in the surface swamp anyway (that's kind of a good way to lose the next generation...)? There's an otyugh there instead. Not sure the party's going to stumble into its grove, but they might, if they follow the guy's taking out the trash....

All right, now I'm just rambling. My apologies. I'll get something better up and posted in the next couple days. Happy Friday!


  1. I once convinced a group to create a party of all half-elf multi-class assassins.

    It was great fun walking around "pretending" to be Fighters, Clerics and Magic Users... :)

    1. Yeah, you know I remember a couple of these from my youth, too. Half-elf assassin just kind of “feels right.”
      ; )

  2. It's fun to read how you bend this module. I never but browsed the DL modules, but read the Chronicles, Legends and a lot of the other DL novels.
    A sad thing about loosing the Draconians is that you won't surprise the PC the first time their weapons get stock :D But then that's really the only sad thing about that.
    You seem to get some mileage out of the old thing.

    I'm not sure which site you go for library purposes regarding old modules, but the one I'm using recently went from ".com" to ".it" If it happens to be the same treasure trove, then try that.

    It's fun you mention WG4 in this post. I re-posted a post somewhat about that, at the same date you posted this. It's a bit on the lazy side, but perhaps you find it slightly interesting.
    Piggyback riding in to the sunset ;D

    1. Huh....that’s pretty interesting! I think there’s quite a bit more plagiarism in this hobby than most folks admit/acknowledge. Which is, you know, fine (and expected!) when you’re at your own table, less fine when you’re publishing stuff without acknowledgement.

      RE DL1:

      I’m actually very interested how my players are going to fare in the thing. Even though I’ve beefed up the encounters and dropped the average PC level to 3rd, the party’s had ZERO problem handling the far. But, you know, DRAGONs are a whole different story.
      ; )

  3. To throw out a sidebar, our own group in Seattle is planning in person games soon, and as is my style, one plan is to revisit another old school module, this time, I6 Ravenloft. I've been reading up OSR blog posts on this module, in particular looking for ideas on minimizing the railroad aspects, and also to give players full agency to play traditional D&D characters while building the gothic/horror/funhouse aspects that I6 needs. NPC's are a great way to make this work better (finally relating this post), but I'm up for any posts or replies that might give me ideas. Maybe a seed for a future post...

    1. @ Sir Rob:

      I am even more un-schooled with Ravenloft than Dragonlance. My co-DM ran the adventure for my group "back in the day" over a weekend when I was out of town, so I've never even played it. I picked up a copy circa 1998, and tried running it for a buddy with almost zero prep...probably while drinking...and remember almost nothing about it.

      All of which is to give excuses for not biting on your hook-and-line.

      But maybe I will. I mean, it's just another excuse for me to stir up trouble for myself and push the buttons of folks who LOVE the whole Ravenloft if I didn't do enough of that already. *sigh*

      If you haven't seen GusL's thoughts on I6, I'd recommend starting with those:

      Perhaps I'll give the adventure another look...yet another old module to dig out of the closet....

  4. Speaking of picking up prisoners to be PCs, we have a group that's been sampling various megadungeons out there like Barrowmaze, Highfell, Archaia, etc. They've lost several PCs along the way, but picked up others. So now their group of 8 PCs consists of 4 survivors of the original party of 8 or 9, plus 4 others who've joined after being rescued or, in one case, the only survivor of a near TPK from a parallel campaign. So it's a fun way to bring new PCs in.

    1. The DMG text makes it pretty clear that the only reason an adventurer type would “hire on” to another party (as a retainer) is due to being extremely down-on-their-luck and destitute. Liberated prisoners certainly count in this regard…and sole survivors of TPKs probably do to!
      ; )