I love being on holiday: lots of time to mess around and play games! Today, on a whim, I decided to start playing through one of the most iconic and influential adventures from Dungeons & Dragons: DL1 “Dragons of Despair”.
Although Dragons of Despair is designed for play with 6-8 characters using Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition, I decided to opt for my favourite iteration of D&D: the Basic Set and Expert Sets.
Grabbing up my B/X books, I rolled up four characters and gave each 16,000 XP to create a party. I ended up with a Fighter, an Elf, a Thief, and a Magic-User of around levels 4-5. I equipped them using the stuff the original characters from the module are listed as having… except for the Magic-User. For Rastor the Red, I rolled for a Wand/Staff/Rod on the treasure table, page X45, and scored a 23 to net him a Staff of Power (with 23 charges). Cool!
You can see the party’s Character Sheet scans here: B/X Dragonlance Party
From there, I sat down to play through the scenario solo.
The Road Travels East…
The air surges fierce and sweet, carrying the clear musk smell of the woodlands. The soft murmur of stirring leaves, of insects, and of small animals fills the landscape. The clear highland sky blushes with the end of day and fades into starry sleep. This is home.
From this rock outcropping the valley below seems peaceful, untouched. Dense forests of pine carpet the mountainsides, varied only by thick aspen woods. The mountains, deep blue in the distance, circle the valley floor and form a soft highland bowl…
Five years ago, you and your friends parted to search for a true cleric. Tonight, you meet on the road to Solace Town and none of you have found any sign of true clerics through all your travels.
The bushes to your left rustle. Suddenly, dark shapes scurry from the woods on both sides of the road. Their yellow-green skin pales against their heavy black armour; their twisted faces glare from the evening darkness. They crouch in a large circle about you, well beyond sword range. A stout pony struggles up onto the road, sagging beneath a flabby figure much the same, although larger, than those who surround you. The pony rider suddenly turns his head toward you and yells, “Onyx demands the blue crystal staff! Forfeit the staff now or die!”
Well, ok… looks like the adventure begins with a punch-up and I’m happy to give these scurvy dogs a taste of our steel.
The encounter distance is uncertain, so I roll 2d6x10 and score 50 feet. Neither side is surprised. Monsters win initiative.
Roughly turning his pony, the flabby rider shouts, “Destroy them and bring the staff to me,” then gallops into the woods. The remaining Hobgoblins close to attack – there are ten of them! The marching order is Tolim (Elf) and Elthan (Fighter) in front of Garik (Thief) and Rastor (Magic-user) but, as they are surrounded, this is little help. I opt to send three Hobgoblins to attack Tolim, three more to attack Elthan, and two each to strike at Garik and Rastor.
The movement phase allows the Hobgoblins to engage. None of them shoots or uses magic so we move to Hand-to-Hand Combat.
One strike on Tolim (4 hp damage), one strike on Elthan (2 hp damage), but no hits on either Garik or Rastor – lucky stuff!
The adventurers go next. No one is using missile weapons so we move to magic casting. As the situation looks dire, Rastor casts his Web spell on the two Hobgoblins moving to attack him.
They are caught in the strands for 4 rounds.
Then the adventurers attack in Hand-to-Hand combat: Tolim attacks a Hobgoblin and hits with his sword (6 hp of damage), killing it; Elthan strikes with his two-handed sword, hits (14 hp of damage), and kills another; Garik stabs out with his sword, hits (8 hp of damage), and kills a third. As Rastor has already acted, it’s end of Round 1.
The adventurers gain the initiative this round. Tolim attacks with the sword, hits (11 hp of damage), and kills a Hobgoblin; Elthan strikes at with the two-hander, hits (9 hp of damage), and kills another. Garik giggles as he lashes out at the second of his Hobgoblins but misses. Rastor stabs at one of the two webbed Hobgoblins with his dagger, but misses.
Morale check for the Hobgoblins scores 8 – exactly enough for them to hang in there!
One left on Tolim attacks and misses; one on Elthan also misses; the one fighting Garik hits with his sword (1 hp of damage), and the two webbed Hobgoblins wrestle to escape. End of Round 2.
Once again, the adventurers gain the initiative and fight on. Tolim misses while Elthan hits (8 hp of damage) and kills his last Hobgoblin; Garik hits and slashes (6 hp of damage) down his last opponent too. Rastor decides to guard his pair for later interrogation.
Morale check for the Hobgoblins made at -1 penalty (they are losing) but rolls 9 for a total of 8. The dull-witted creatures fight on! In fact, having succeeded twice, they will fight to the death!
Only Elthan has a Hobgoblin to attack him, which misses. End of round as the two webbed Hobgoblins wrestle to escape.
The Hobgoblins gain the initiative. The standing creature swipes at Elthan with his sword, hits (1 hp of damage), and cackles with glee as he draws blood. The other two wrestle with the webbing.
Tolim closes on the webbed Hobgoblins, intending to run them through, as does Garik. Tolim strikes, hits (6 hp of damage) and kills the first; Garik stabs out, hits (7 hp of damage), and kills the second. Rastor sighs out loud in frustration while Elthan attacks the last Hobgoblin – hits (5 hp of damage) and kills it. Battle over… ten dead Hobgoblins.
“Why didn’t you spare them for questioning,” asks Rastor. Elthan shrugs as he walks over to Tolim saying, “Perhaps ol’ Tolim just didn’t like the cut of their jib, eh, wizard?”
Need to roll 1d4 to see how many encounters occur before Event 2 turns up – roll 4.
As we’re on the road outside the town of Solace, the adventurers approach the settlement:
A warm autumn breeze rustles the great Vallenwood trees of Solace. The great road that wanders through the trees blazes in the bright colours of autumn. The richly stained buildings of Solace rest cradled overhead in the boughs of the trees.
Not wanting to mess around, we head for the Inn of the Last Home because… well, that’s where we need to go:
The Inn of the Last Home rests cradled high in the boughs of a Vallenwood tree, as do all the buildings here, for Solace is a treetop town. Warm laughter tumbles from the Inn. The worn steps wind around the heavy trunk up to the familiar, carved door.
The Inn of the Last Home never changes. The polished wooden bar weaves about several living branches. An old man weaves stories in the corner and delights the crowd gathered about him. The delicate windows of stained glass behind the bar are being polished by Otik Sandath, the barkeeper. He turns and waves, smiling at you, and motions the barmaid in your direction.
The low murmur of voices fills the inn. The bartender turns thoughtfully to polish the glasses. At a far table, near the storyteller, a man and a woman sit together and speak quietly. Another man stands beside the now-silent storyteller while a small boy stares thoughtfully into the fire.
The barmaid steps toward you, smiles, and shows you to a table. Something about her seems familiar. The hair? The intelligent glint of her eyes? Could this be Tika, the little girl who swept the tavern floors a short five years ago? The Inn never changes, but surely its people do.
I decide to get Garik to go and order some drinks and talk to the bar keeper. The man is unfriendly, however, and won’t talk. Garik buys four cups of ale and returns to the table the other three have taken.
Tolim eyes the storyteller with interest. After the old man finishes his tale, he ambles over to the table.
“I see you have taken an interest in my tales, Elf,” the old storyteller says. Tolim nods and indicates for the man to sit. The man shakes his head and then says, “I foresee great and terrible destiny in your eyes. There is a Blue Staff which you must return to Xak Tsaroth. There, in but a few days hence, you shall face your greatest peril in contest for the greatest gift given to man.”
“What do you mean?” asks Tolim.
“I have already said too much,” the man chuckles before ambling back over to tell another tale.
A man at the adjacent table is heard muttering, “Hooded men have been in town asking about that staff! An evil lot they were, too. I wonder if they were offering a reward.”
At this, the party decides to pay for some rooms and rest for the night.
The Morning Dawns…
Having looked at the wilderness map, the group decides to wander up to the Crystalmir Lake before heading west towards Haven, along the old road. Basically, we don’t like the fact that we got attacked and figure the best place to get answers is in Haven.
Going to the lake:
The blue of the autumn sky darkens on the deep stillness of the lake. The soft forests of giant Vallenwood border the serene waters on the east, south, and west shores. To the north, a patchwork of fields stretches toward the distant purple mountains.
Not much excitement there, so we head east along the road:
The Solace Stream sparkles beneath an ancient stone bridge. Water tumbles out of the forest, over the rocks, and toward the Southpass that lies between the south Sentinel Peaks. West of the bridge, the road splits in two, branching to the south and the west. Both roads wind among the great Vallenwoods, whose boughs form a brilliant autumn canopy over the roadway.
Looks calm and quiet. No reason to feel nervous… but I do. Ho hum. Continue up the road…
The flaming colours of fall surround you, and an autumn breeze ripples through your hair. To the southwest, the white-capped outline of Prayers Eye Peak soars in the distance. Barely visible from here, a sharp crack splits the peak as though two hands were pressed together.
There’s a 30% chance of someone spotting something of interest – rolls 25 for a success! Rolls 1d4 to randomly determine who it is – score 1 for Tolim.
Tolim spots the fabled White Stag in the undergrowth nearby. The stag crashes through a tangle of bushes and trees, emerging well ahead of the party. I get the feeling we are meant to follow it… ah, what the heck! We follow it.
The White Stag stays just ahead of the heroes, a flashing white form in the undergrowth, until it has led them through the crack in the middle of Prayers Eye Peak:
The mountain valley runs east and west between Prayers Eye Peak and a second ridge of mountains. Tall aspens, still green well into autumn, shiver in groves about the valley. The vale itself is carpeted in tall, soft grasses. Both exits from the valley, to the southwest and to the east, lead into the dimness of deeper woods.
After that, the White Stag bounds at full speed into the Darken Wood.
This is the fourth encounter, so Event 2 kicks in at this point:
Suddenly, soft music begins. Its source is a slim, beautiful girl. Lyre in hand, she slides gracefully to sit; nearby, a large plainsman raises a flute to his lips. The girl’s eyes are a bright sky blue, her skin a buttery tan. Most striking of all is the flowing white gold of her hair. Plush white furs trim her woven cape. A single feather folds back along the right side of her head. Her voice clear as winter air, she begins to sing…
At this point, we get to read the Song of Goldmoon… but I’ll not bore you with the details. Geez, there’s even a score (if only I could read music!) for those who want to sing it. She appears to be singing to the young man, Riverwind. Hmm.
A crystal staff falls from a fold in Goldmoon’s robe, rolls over towards the heroes and is stopped by Garik’s boot. Picking up the staff, Garik is instantly healed! Nice! He hands it back to her, turning it over in his hands as he does so:
This staff is carved from a single piece of blue crystal. It is about 5 feet long and has a 2-inch diameter shaft. The ornamental bladed head of the staff bears a gem in its centre.
As Goldmoon accepts the staff, Garik asks her, “Where did you get that? You do know that there’s a fat Hobgoblin looking for that thing, right?”
“Riverwind, my betrothed, recovered it from the lands far east of here,” she replies.
Riverwind says, “I am a warrior of the Que-Shu tribe. I have loved Goldmoon for many turns of the sun. I remember little of what happened to me after I reached the Forsaken Lands. Everything rises as dark dreams: a black swamp, a well, a kind and shining lady, a leather-winged creature of evil. How much of this happened and how much was madness, I cannot say. Months later I somehow returned, bleeding, crazed with fever and visions. I presented the staff, but the council scorned it. Somehow the staff helped us escape in a flash of sunlight. Now we seek control of its power.”
Sounds interesting. Que-Shu is far off to the east and maybe the black swamp is a reference to the swamp near Xak Tsaroth.
“Would you like to join our party for safety on the road?” asks Tolim.
“We saw the White Stag and followed it here. Legend says the White Stag appears only for matters of import. Perhaps our meeting is not a coincidence.”
Goldmoon looks to Riverwind and their eyes meet. With a single nod, Riverwind decides. The two will join the adventurers.
These two become NPCs in the scenario, allied to the party.
Given the information we’ve received and the prophecy from the Old Storyteller, the question is whether to follow the White Stag into the Darken Wood or to backtrack and head east towards Xak Tsaroth. Surely answers will come if we return to where Riverwind found the staff?
The decision can wait until next time…