DragonLance: Playing Dragons of Flame – part 1

Not too long ago we began playing DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984), and at the same time we began playing AD&D 1st ed., having played a few modules using D&D becmi. Soon we discovered that AD&D 1st ed. was a bit awkward (initiative rules for one thing), however there was a certain charm to it, and the dungeon in Dragons of Despair we had a lot of fun with. It was good, and thus we decided to keep playing DragonLance, and we turned to DL2 Dragons of Flame (1984).

However it was a slow start. At first we decided to implement the DragonLance-campaign book (1987), however that caused a lot of problems, as there was no conversion guide, and the book was rather unclear on what to do, if you had begun the play with the regular AD&D-rules and then implemented the DL-setting. For instance how about druids? Well, some characters gained levels, others lost them, and the mages had to reconfigure their spell books, and only the Kendar Thief were unharmed. It felt a bit like the early Order of the Stick-page, where the party shifts from 3E to 3,5E. Thus an evening was spent.

Then came the session of very little happening with me telling an awful lot of things happening. The first half the scenario is about the characters returning to their favorite village, getting taken prisoners, being rescued, being led through the forest, see the elves, meet with the elves, see an elven maiden being kidnapped, and then finally move on the adventure.

We wasted an evening, where I began fast forwarding through long passages about elves talking with each other and guiding the PCs though forests etc., and we even skipped combats, as these were interspersed between long passages of narration:

  • Things happens
  • You travel, long description of travelling
  • NPC’s talk – some with each other, some speak to you
  • NPC finishes speech, you may add comment
  • Suddenly monsters burst into scene due to actions of NPC. You may battle nameless henchmen
  • Combat is over, NPC’s resume playing the scenario
  • Some nameless NPC’s are actually hidden, important NPCs, that you will meet later, during their important stories

This is bad, bad design. This is playing the module as written. It is boring for me as GM and for my players. The best things were the absurdities, the occurred during these passages, when we overplayed the importance of me narrating to the players, what happened and overtly forbade them to do anything or respond to anything until I had finished my narration. At other times we made merry on the attempts to use a poetic language to describe landscapes or NPCs doing things etc.

At the third session, we finally reached the dungeon of Sla-Mori, and now we are finally playing a more regular game. I am looking forward to play through the last part, where the PCs enters Pax Tharkas, though I fear the narration may take control of the game once more.

So far it was an interesting attempt to create a strong narrative arc of epic proportions from the designers, but being this early in the history of D&D, I must say it failed – but it is obviously possible to solve this problem, as some GM’s have done by rewriting the modules to suit their tastes.

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