Tuesday, June 18, 2024

"Dragon Wrack"

Hope folks had an enjoyable Father's Day this last weekend, whatever your relationship to "fatherhood" might be. Speaking for myself, it was delightful, due in large part to my family bending over backwards to make Sunday a special day for Yours Truly.

Doesn't mean it was perfect, of course. I wasn't able to get the dinner I wanted (not for lack of trying...we won't go into that), and I did still have to do some dishes (though not nearly as many as usual), and I would have preferred a different pie than "Key lime" (it's not bad, just not my favorite). And then there was the gaming....

SO, one thing I forgot to mention the other day: the latest installment of Prince's No ArtPunk contest has been published. NAP 3 is available as an absolutely enormous, 'pay what you want' PDF file

How enormous? 694 pages. Yeah. Granted, it contains 14 high level adventures (including maps) interspersed with some half dozen essays relating to "high level play" (the theme of this year's NAP competition) and a few pages of art, but still...it's big. The adventures are big. Prince included his own most recent module (Slyth Hive) in the compilation, and that's damn near 100 pages itself.

But laptop memory eater or not, slog or not, it's a pretty amazing compilation. A lot of creativity on display, a lot of enthusiasm. Folks really attacked the NAP challenge with gusto, and the sheer volume and variety of submissions is...well, as I already wrote, "amazing." I plan on doing a read through over the next couple months (slog, remember?) and will probably pen some 'capsule reviews.' At least for the AD&D modules.

Now, about that gaming...

The last couple-three years, my kids have been really good about making sure I get some serious D&D play in when Father's Day rolls around. That's just what Nerd Dad likes doing: I'm not (much of) a golfer, so I don't want to hit the course or (even) sit on my couch watching the U.S. Open. D&D (or other games) is the main event on the docket and, what with being a weekend (and usually one that's OFF from other activities), we can carve out a nice large chunk of time for ourselves, rather than the couple hours snatched here and there during the week. Often, my kids will run a game for me, but this year I wanted to DM because I had something specific I wanted to run: Dragon Wrack, my high-level entry for NAP3.

If you pick up the NAP3 book, you'll see the adventure, as it made the cut as one of the finalists. In brief: it's a re-writing/re-working of the old TSR module DL14: Dragons of Triumph. Yep, I'm still on that whole 'rehabilitating DragonLance" kick, though in this case I redrew all the maps and chucked pretty much everything from the original module save for the general concept (Tiamat's temple-fortress, surrounded by her armies, PCs doing an infiltration gig, while the Forces of Good are marching on the place). I mean, I even wrote the thing for use with CHAINMAIL, including an appendix of new AD&D specific adaptations, since I never was into "BattleSystem."  Sure, it includes pre-gens bearing a passing resemblance to certain "heroes" of the DL novels and, yeah, it has some Dragon Lords...but it's not really the same adventure. It's not set in Krynn, but in my own PNW world (Moscow, Idaho taking the place of "Neraka"), and you certainly won't find any "draconians" or "kender" or any bars of gold that have been completely devalued by the setting. Au contraire, what you WILL find are heaping piles of treasure, as well as Tiamat who never makes an appearance in the original module, despite featuring prominently on the cover. 

Illo by Clyde Caldwell
Why did I want to play Dragon Wrack? A couple reasons. First, I never had the chance to play-test the thing when I first wrote it (I was under serious time pressure just to get the thing out by the submission deadline). Second, I wanted to take a break from our current campaign...as a test for a future publication, that adventure is requiring a bit more work and attention then I really have time for at the moment. But mainly, it's just that...now that NAP3 has been made available to the general public...I figured I should at least say I've given the thing a spin myself.  And this was as good a time as any.


Problems, problems, problems...abounding, right from the get-go. 

First, there's the premise. Unlike a normal "explore and loot" scenario, DW has a fairly specific objective: find a way to disrupt the Queen and/or her forces so that the Allied army can win the day. Okay, but how? The party is basically the equivalent of a high level task force / commando squad (or the generals of the Allied host...if you want to play it that way)...but this needs to be spelled out a bit. "Intel" could be better: what the players know (and don't know) needs to be very specific, because the time crunch, the time pressure of the thing, is very real once you sit down to play the scenario. My players have been trying to get intel AND formulate plans at the same time, all on the fly, with very mixed results.

The whole intro/background section of the adventure needs rewriting, in other words.

Then there's the town of Moscow: my original idea for the adventure was to include at least a rough sketch / layout of the place, based on actual city maps of the town circa 1890. Unfortunately time constraints caught up with me (I had less than a month to write the whole thing, start to finish), and this got 'cut' from the final. But without something to show the players, keyed or not, it's hard for them to really visualize the situation they're in. Besides which, I hadn't even bothered to decide the answers to questions like 'how open is the town?' 'What are the streets like?' 'Are there dragon army patrols / town militia / etc. and what is their composition?' Once again (as many times before) I was struck by the inadequacy of the game to provide procedures for running a town or urban environment.

The adventure has a decent timeline of events that is based on the specific pre-gens the players choose to use on the adventure. For my players, they wanted to bring their own characters as well (a provision accounted for in the adventure) despite being a little under-leveled (8th and 7th) for the scenario. Because of the particular party composition chosen, the players found themselves just a few hours ahead of the Black Wing of the Dragon Army. However, rather than try to get into the temple first, the players decided to sit and wait, giving the army a chance to enter and occupy the fortress. 

Why? Because they decided to scale the temple/fortress from the outside and wanted to wait till the dead of night to do so. And here again I see things missing from my scenario that would have been useful: pieces about foot traffic in and around the temple, patrols in the grounds, locations of guardsmen, numbers and weapons. Yes, some of this is there...in the form of wandering monster tables and percentage chances for room occupants depending on whether or not the army is present. But, as written, it needs more. And probably needs greater specificity. Also, how long a Wing takes to enter the place and in what order (as well as where they go from there)...all things I ended up needing to work out at the table during play.

Because, at the last minute, the players decided it would be easier to simply infiltrate the place as part of the army; Diego's assassin disguised himself as an orc soldier, the magic-user cast invisibility on Sofia's fighter, and the two joined the back file of grunts marching through the Black Wing's gate.

At this point, we've been playing for two days now (I'm typing this Tuesday morning; while we started the game on Sunday, it ended up continuing to Monday). The lack of clear objectives has meant the players are kind of running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They're divided on whether or not they want to find a way to the roof (to let down their ropes to the others), or find their imprisoned companions (also part of the scenario), or find Tiamat herself (though I'm not sure what they'd do if they did!). They've been wandering about, blundering into places, and then having to explain why they're in the wrong areas/sections (again, notes on how the temple's inhabitants react to such blunders should have been included in the adventure). 

All in all, I'm rather disappointed in how the thing is playing out...so much so that the original title of this post was "Dragon Crap." It IS tense and pressurized, but as written the adventure lacks focus or a clear path of action for the players...and that has meant the pace of the thing has been slow. I'm used to a brisker adventuring style, not this cautious, tentativeness (caused by the lack of direction). It's frustrating; I wish I'd had a chance to play-test before submitting the thing for publication. 

Ah, well.

We'll see how it goes today: last week the kids finished up school for the year, and we ain't got shit to do (at least, not till soccer practice this evening), so I'm sure it will be "game on" after breakfast. The players finally stumbled into a fight (right at the end of yesterday's session) and it seems pretty clear they've managed to alert the section they've been poking around.  I'm going to try spending a little time organizing the pages this morning, to see if I can get some semblance of what organized resistance to the PCs' intrusion. Hopefully, things will go smoother.

Later gators.
: )


  1. The playtesting killed me. Of all the things that need revising, you'd never think it was the *premise*, but the same thing happened in House of Pestilence. Haven't given it a closer reading, but I do plan to do some capsule reviews of my own (right now, it looks like Ivory Islet piledrives the rest of us), and look forward to your own. Your comments led to great revisions in HoP, can't wait to read your full thoughts!

    1. I'm glad my comments were helpful and not too...um..."antagonistic." I'll post my thoughts on HoP as I can, when I can. Haven't even read Ivory Islet yet, but I might start with that one, seeing as it was the winner.
      ; )

  2. I glanced through it at work mostly to see what it had to say about the area. Growing up in the Pallouse I'm interested to see it in "D&D". And the first thing I noticed was no map of Moscow and wonder how it would run without one.

    I'm all for a revamp that includes more regional info.

    Also you complained in your last post it was too long. But honestly if you moved it to two columns and assumed the maps were in a tri fold cover it would probably fit in a old TSR 32 page format. Single columns take up a ton of room.

    Good luck with the playthrough.

    1. Thanks. There isn't much actual info on the Palouse, and (for the contest) I altered the names of the towns ("Looton" for Lewiston, "Pulmas" for Pullman, etc.). When running the game, I just use the actual place names. Maybe some day I'll get around to writing a 'setting guide' for my campaign, but that's a looong way down the road (and I'd think most people wouldn't find it all that interesting).

      Yeah, it wouldn't be too hard to rewrite the think into a reasonable size. As I said, I had less than 30 days to do the whole thing and was writing pretty much all the way to the deadline. Playing through it now, I can see all sorts of areas where I put too much of the wrong kind of information, conveying things that didn't need to be conveyed and leaving out things that did. For me, it's a real eye-opener: I see how/why those latter day module cobblers got sidetracked with stories and character arcs (which are fun to write yet have almost no bearing on the play at the table).

      Today's playthrough went pretty darn good, by the way: once we got into the heart of the dungeon, things really started to hum. I cut the session short because I've got some stuff to do, but the kids really wanted to keep going. I'll probably need to write a follow-up post.

    2. I obviously would be interested in a setting guide having been born in Pulmas and growing up playing in the fields of Colfen, but I agree most folks probably don't have the same interest as me. Also as the adventures such high level the amount of detail you need for somewhere like Looton and Colfen is probably four to five sentences. Just enough to answer the questions the PC might have if they end up stopping in our using it as a base.

      Colfen: Home to roughly 30 farming families who provide grain to the scholar mages of Pulmas. Folks here are more accepting of magic than most rural folks and happy enough to take coin from travelers the school brings. A middle aged knight named Ian "Iron" Kurtz is the leader of the town and a veteran of some skill. He drills the militia relentlessly even though he knows it will do little to slow the dragon army. A large inn called the Carpenter's Rest and a small church run by a young but enthusiastic priest, Father James, sit on the town square.

      Glad the second playtest is going Well. hopefully you have enough fun to be motivated to do a revamp and fix what you found on your first playtest. Then do a rerelease as a stand alone.

    3. Mm. One thing about changing names, "Colfen" and "Colven" are a lot closer to each other than Colfax and Colville. Probably could have done a better job with that, as it's bound to confuse readers not familiar with the area (*sigh*).

      "Iron" Kurtz and Father James will be added to my notes for Colfen/Colfax.
      ; )