Part 3: Filling in the Gaps 1: Places, Magic, and CreaturesFilling in the Gaps: Places, Magic, and Creatures
Due to the depth of the setting and the amount of detail left to be filled in, I've decided to start doing intermediate updates to explain some of the setting details, monsters we're fighting, and talk about the magic spells available. To start with:
When Is This?
One problem with a game taking place in a heavily novelized setting like Dragonlance is that it's kind of hard to find a period you can set the thing without explicitly contradicting something or other in the canon novels. To be honest, this one gave me a bit of trouble too as the way the game opens gives you a pretty good suspicion that this is supposed to be one of the various fronts of the actual War of the Lance that didn't get very much coverage. In reality, however, this isn't actually the case.
Looking at the beginning of the Adventurer's Journal, there's a letter that summarizes the events the first trilogy of books and the "Time of the Twins" trilogy, as well as mentioning an attempt by one of the series villains, Kitiara Uth Matar, to seize control of the remnants of the DragonArmies and attempt her own conquest. The War of the Lance ended in the year 353 after the Cataclysm, while the Twins trilogy ended in 357. Based on the letter we're introduced to there has been a long and bitter military campaign afterwards, which means that in all likelihood we're probably somewhere in the range of 358-360. The game isn't too keen on giving specific dates, probably to avoid providing too much conflict.
One thing that is clear is that the majority of this campaign is taking place in areas where the DragonArmies were in control during the war, which explains why there are still large remnants of the evil armies roaming around the area. Neraka, Sanction, and Throtle were all major strongholds during the War of the Lance, with Neraka and Sanction being of particular importance. Throtl was the home citadel of the hobgoblins, which will make a few fights in the next update make a bit more sense.
Right now we've only encountered a single enemy type, but I figure that they might bear some explanation. Most people are pretty familiar with standard enemies like goblins, orcs, and ogres, and at least passably familiar with some of the weirder types like gnolls, bugbears, and hobgoblins. Draconians, on the other hand those take a bit of explaining.
Where Did They Come From?
One thing to keep in mind looking at draconians is that any individual you see in this game is going to be no more than about a decade old. Draconians are created creatures, and originated shortly before the War of the Lance as an attempt by the DragonArmies to bolster their forces. The process involved magically corrupting the eggs of the metallic dragons, which the chromatic dragons stole and held hostage in exchange for a promise of neutrality by their counterparts. As you'd expect, being evil, they had no intention of keeping the bargain. Originally draconians were depicted as either genderless or generally masculine, but later additions suggested that there were actually a very small number of female draconians. In all likelihood, however, this game series was produced before that particular bit of canon was decided on. Since there are five types of metallic dragon, there are also five types of draconians with varying powers and abilities. I'll go ahead and lightly spoil things by giving some information about each type.
These Draconians are made from the eggs of brass dragons, and are generally considered to be the weakest and stupidest of the lot. That doesn't mean much, as they're roughly human average in intelligence and above average in strength and agility. The Baaz first appear in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and are confirmed to have magic resistance at that point. When Baaz die their bodies turn to stone, trapping any weapon still inside them in order to disarm their opponent. How exactly this works on blunt weapons is hard to fathom, but somehow it does.
Kapak draconians come from copper dragon eggs, and are the assassins of the DragonArmies. Kapak draconians have venomous saliva, and lick their weapons in order to coat them. The saliva can paralyze humanoid creatures, and since you can be given a coup-de-grace if you're paralyzed this makes Kapaks extremely dangerous. When Kapaks die they splatter acid in their immediate vicinity, creating puddles that cause damage to anyone who walks through them.
Bozak draconians are the first spell casting draconians, and come from bronze dragon eggs. You'll see lightning bolt, magic missile, and slow spells out of them, but Bozak are relatively low-level casters and as such aren't that much of a threat. A group of them, however, can definitely put a crimp in your day if they all drop lightning bolt spells and they can sometimes lock down your mages with magic missile. When Bozak are killed they explode, damaging everything in the 8 surrounding squares.
We've already seen these guys in the game acting as infiltrators, which Sivaks can easily accomplish due to their natural ability to shape shift. This is a trait they share in common with their silver dragon parents, who are known for shape shifting and living among humans and elves. Sivaks are the largest draconians, and are the only ones who can accomplish true flight. The draconians we've already discussed can manage a controlled glide from essentially any height, but can't actually take off on their own. In combat Sivaks are pretty terrifying, as they get three attacks per round and hit very hard. Sivaks are supposed to transform into a semblance of their killer when slain, but the developers either missed that note or just decided they'd ignore it for dramatic effect.
Another one we've already been introduced to, Aurak draconians are the premier spell casters of the draconian forces and the only draconians without wings. The draconian we saw immediately after the caravan attack was this type of draconian, and probably could have killed our entire party without batting an eye. Aurak draconians come from gold dragon eggs, and have the ability to cast a number of spells at a fairly high level. Their death reaction comes in two stages. After reducing an Aurak down to 0 HP for the first time they shoot right back up to 20 HP and start to attack in a frenzy. Once they've been reduced to 0 HP again they stand still and will explode after several rounds. You really, really don't want to be anywhere near them when that happens.
Starting out we've got access to a couple of levels of spell. I'm going to go over them briefly with a few notes on their function and which ones I find particularly useful. There are unlikely to be any surprises, but some readers might not be very familiar with all of the spells.
Mage Spells, Level 1 (All spells are available to both red and white mages)
Burning Hands - 1 point of fire damage per level in the target area, which is directly in front of the character, with no saving throw allowed. Right now it's only suitable for killing vermin, but it can be an easy source of cheap damage at higher levels.
Charm Person - only works on humanoids, and only works on one target. Can be situationally useful, say by charming an enemy fighter standing right next to an enemy mage, but since it only takes one target out of the fight it's subpar compared to our other options.
Detect Magic - always a great spell to have memorized, since there's no other way to pick magical gear out of a pile. It's useful to have each of your casters prepare this one in case you come across multiple piles of loot.
Enlarge - does just what it says, but works by boosting stats to specific values based on the level of the caster. Unfortunately, our characters are too strong to get much use out of this spell until the second game. It won't be memorized during this play through.
Friends - raises the caster's Charisma for interactions with NPCs. This will never be used. Your mage is almost never going to be doing interactions anyway. That's what Knights are for.
Magic Missile - probably the second best 1st level spell. Never misses, casts instantly, and does acceptable damage for a first level spell. It's supposed to cap out at 10-30 damage, but in later games they failed to implement that cap. Since mages can't cast if they've been damaged during their turn, it's great for damaging enemy mages and keeping them locked down. Eventually it'll be our most memorized spell.
Protection from Evil - improves AC and saving throws by 2 points against evil attackers. Clerics can usually do this much better, and paladins do it naturally. I don't use this.
Read Magic - lets you scribe scrolls and add spells to your spell book. Only used in safe places, and definitely not part of a standard load out.
Shield - gives a saving throw bonus, can increase AC (bracers/rings of protection don't stack with it), and most importantly blocks magic missile completely. A pretty useful spell if you're going to be facing enemy mages, since they can and will lock your spell casters down.
Shocking Grasp - sub-par in several respects. Shocking Grasp does 1-8 damage, plus 1 for every caster level. It starts out stronger than the other two damaging spells, but is hampered by the fact that the mage actually has to touch the target to deliver the spell.
Sleep - the very best spell in the first level selection for the moment. Sleep can affect up to 16 hit dice of targets, but is completely ineffective against anything with more than 4 hit dice. In addition, the spell only operates in the target square and the eight surrounding squares. It's great at the beginning of this game, but before we're half way through it'll be useless.
Clerics don't have to learn spells, as they have access to every spell in their library as soon as they get access to those spells. Clerics usually have less spells of a given level, and tend to be pretty narrowly focused.
Bless - improves the THAC0 of all party members by 1. It's only supposed to work on adjacent targets, but if you cast it outside of combat it affects the entire party. Not really worth the trouble.
Cure Light Wounds - a fairly useful bread and butter spell. If you don't have anything else for your clerics to use, keep a few of these around. Very useful given that we have a "FIX" command.
Detect Magic - the same as the mage version. Also a good choice to keep around.
Protection from Evil - yep, another duplicate. Same arguments apply. Since clerics don't have as many useful spells in this level, it might be worth using.
Resist Cold - halves damage from cold based attacks, and improves saving throws against cold based attacks by 3. If you make your saving throw, that means only 1/4 damage from cold attacks. Great if you're going to be facing white dragons, otherwise not worth keeping around.
Find Traps - we have a thief for a reason. This isn't an improvement, and you'd almost have to know that the traps were there before you cast it.
Hold Person - unquestionably the best spell in this level. It can paralyze humanoid targets, but only strikes at 3. I don't believe it has a level limit, but it gets easier for people to save against as they increase in level. Still, you could always get lucky. Early on it really shines.
Resist Fire - just like Resist Cold, but with fire. Somewhat more useful, since we will be dealing with enemies who have fireball. Also good against red dragons.
Silence 15' Radius - pretty useful against enemy mages if they should fail their saving throw, but if you're going to silence them why don't you just use hold person instead? Since it affects creatures next to the target, however, you could theoretically cast it on one of your own characters and move them next to an enemy. That's a terribly inefficient method, but I suppose you COULD do it.
Slow Poison - a horrible spell that you should never use. Poison in this game works by reducing a character's HP to 0, but can be cured by the spell neutralize poison. If you cast slow poison on a poisoned individual they'll get up, but once the spell wears off they'll be truly dead and will need to be raised. If they're an elf, they can't be raised you see where this is going?
Snake Charm - paralyzes snakes up to the number of HP the cleric has. Considering the number of snakes we're likely to encounter this is practically useless. Only something you'd use if you actually knew there would be snakes.
Spiritual Hammer - creates a magic hammer that you can throw. Once again why?