Welcome to my fifth installment in the series on re-imagining DragonLance. In my previous post I revealed that DragonLance is a science fantasy-setting, and following this argument I will in this part of re-imagining DL3 focus on those aspects that lead DragonLance into the Science Fantasy genre. In the first post I covered those aspects of the module, that can be changed without the science fantasy-elements, and in my post on the hidden history of DragonLance arguing that DragonLance really is a science fantasy-setting I laid the ground for viewing the setting as such, and now I will cover the specific aspects in DL3.
The Ruined Tower
This tower contains some sort of apparatus that for one reason or another points the way to Fistandantilus’ grave, and this is one of many disguised science fantasy elements in DL3, where somehow a mysterious semi-magical apparatus has been designed.
Truly this is the poor ruins of technological wonder, that now is being reclaimed by nature, but some of the machines are still working. By exploring the tower, the PCs accidentally or on purpose trigger the machines, that spring to life with a hum, and an advanced laser pointer and a holographic projector helps the PCs to orient themselves and map the area, but energy is running low, and the tower soon cease to work.
The Steam City
Under the mountains are according to the module huge caverns generation heat and steam, and the dwarves build a city here, that drew upon the steam to heat the city. Now the place is abandoned, but a small clan of Aghar still lives here, and they guard a relic of the past.
Disguised as just a fallen dwarven city and just a magical crystal, this part obviously draws from science fiction archetypical stories, where the degenerate survivors lives on in an automated city that is slowly collapsing, and they guard ancient computersystems, they have the lost the ability to operate properly, and instead they venerate them and operate them in a ritualistic manner, however recently the machinery has begun failing more and more often. It is believed among the degenerate survivors that they have angered the gods, and that they should return to the olden ways. During the story the protagonists arrive, gains access to the systems, and the truth of the high tech city is revealed, but this occurs during a power struggle among the survivors, where one faction considers the protagonists for blasphemers, and the cause of the angry gods. The protagonists are captured, but they succeed in escaping and during the escape, the city is destroyed as the machinery finally fails.
The Steam City encounter can be run as this archetype:
The city utilizes a natural resource in the shape of lavapools or superheated pools, that generates steam. Pipes lead the heat or the steam into the city, where it drives the powerplant. This system must be maintained on a regular basis, and the Aghar does this in a ritualistic manner, but the old piping has begun to corrode, and now rituals can replace the piping. The city is doomed, and it is merely a matter of time.
The Aghar is divided into two or more factions struggling about what is be to done: Sacrifice the chieftains daughter to please the gods? Return to the olden ways? Abandon the city? Appoint a new regent? Led the (false) priests rule the city?
The PCs must navigate between these factions in order to gain access to the “black crystal”, that obviously is a computer system, that is semi-intelligent, and is just waiting for the PCs to ask it questions. It contains no new data, having not been upgraded or updated in centuries, but it can tell things about the olden days. It does not now about the events of the last 300 years, and is naive about the low-tech world of the PCs. Due to age some databanks have been corrupted, but the DM can inform the PCs about whatever is suitable on the olden days and on the presence of Thorbaddins realm.
The steam city naturally collapses during a aghar powerstruggle before all questions have been answered, and the PCs flee from the city as it is destroyed.
Besides the fact that this location can be read as the Dead Marshes from Lord of the Rings, where the marshy land is swallowing up an old battlefield. This part is truly revealing for the secret history of DragonLance as this land is strewn with the corpses of warmachines.
The warmachines are of course not catapults nor ballistae, as one might assume of the medieval fantasy setting. The module itself states nothing on the nature of the warmachines, and that in itself is a bit curious. In the marshy lands are the remains of highly advanced technological warmachines, tanks and artillery, most likely hovertanks and mobile artillery units capable of spewing death at immense distances. Now it is all destroyed left rotting, and no one understands them nor can operate them. It is here important to describe how alien these objects that litter the place are. They are build of metals and alien substances, they are rusting and being overgrown, but their purpose is opaque, as is their construction. Some may still be vaguely alive, driven by remnants of artificial intelligences barely able to call out from dying speakers and perhaps able to operate a few lights, perhaps a mechanical arm. Beyond the eerie experience the characters gain no further from the exploring the warmachines, but the curiosity of the players should be kindled.
Mostly this part is creating mood and revealing the setting to the players and the PCs.
The Tomb and Fortress of Fistandantilus
This place in the module is a dungeon, that is mostly abandoned, but it does contain two dragons (whose presence seems to be a bit of a gaffe, since one has been bound by Fistandantilus since forever, but somehow it survived the catastrophe – and apparently is able to sustain itself – and has been there ever since. The other participated in the war, so it was a dragon present in the world of Krynn just 300 years ago, when the setting material claims that dragons have been gone much further than that, this dragon is an ally, who has been trapped in a stasisfield and for it no time has passed since the death of Fistandantilus, which means it possesses perfect knowledge of this era – and most likely it might know the hidden location of the dwarfgate, being an ally of the dwarves and a good creature.), and a bunch of undeads and mechanical traps, that have survived the ages.
Generally the dungeon works fine, so I won’t bother changing it much except for strengthening the secret history elements:
The Stasis Field
The module presents no reason as to why, there is a dragon caught in a stasis bubble. It just is. For some reason a stasis field manifested itself around the dragon and it’s victim (it is trapped with a goblin, that it is just about to swallow), and that saved it from Fistandantilus’ suicide strike, that killed everyone else (but the shadow dragon for some unknown reason).
The stasis field is naturally another piece of high tech in Fistandantilus’ fortress
What about the dragons?
Unless there is some reason later in the DL-series for the two dragons to have survived, I will generally just remove them. The dragon ally is relevant in the battle against the shadow dragon, and it is unable to explore the deeper parts of the dungeon, and the shadow dragon is tied to its location. So it can be removed as well.
Instead another shadow monster will be place here. Something horrible of course. What is in here, is one of Fistanditus’ monsters, that as such was killed in the nuclear blast, but its shadow was burned on the wall, and that shadow has come alive.
As with the shadow dragon one option is to see the ghosts as shadows burned on the wall, that has come alive, however several ghosts are rather holographic automated forces still running in the fortress even though they slowly are breaking down. In creating them as holographic forces, it connects with the strange apparitions in the sunken city of Xak Tsaroth in DL1, and ideally the PCs/the players now realize that the ghosts of Xak Tsaroth were holographic computer programs, as they are in the grave of Fistandantilus.
The Skeleton Warriors
The Skeleton Warriors begging to be released from the control of Fistandantilus and forced to fight against their will can easily be explained in science fantasy terms, as they are really mechanized armor with a semi-intelligent AI based on the personality of the wearer being forced to serve Fistandantilus. Trapped inside the armor is the bony remains of the warrior, who wore this technological marvel. Most likely Fistandantilus the AI hacked his way into the armor and took control.
The idea that the mechanized armor carries a rudimentary AI based on the personality of the wearer is useful for a later encounter, since the skeleton warriors will then foreshadow a later encounter deeper in the grave.
Chamber of the Mechanical Hydra
This chamber is in the module a labyrinth of invisible floors and walls lighted by a magical globe hanging under the ceiling, and in the midst of the chamber is a mechanical, firebreathing hydra.
As such the does not make sense whether it is fantasy, science fiction or science fantasy. It is just one those weird chambers, that challenges intruders in adventure stories, but otherwise does not really have a function.
The light in the room is not magical, but comes from a electric source, that has been running for hundreds of years. The hydra is covered in the next section, and as for the invisible walls and floors, they can be shaped by technological force fields, and one option is that they actually are mobile and a way to reshape the room so it can be utilised in many ways, but right now it is frozen into one position. By finding the controls the PCs can reshape the room. Whether or not it can be used as a weapon against the hydra is up to the DM to decide (safety measures in the system are likely).
The Mechanical Hydra
When we played this part, the players were convinced the hydra was a robot of some sort, even though we played the module strictly as fantasy and as written, and thus they decided to search for the on/off switch. In the module is uncertain as to how the mechanical hydra works, it just does. Re-imagined it is of course a part of the automated robotic defenses. With age it has begun to breake down as in the module. The only alteration really needed is to make it truly robotic and add an option of switching the robot off.
The Grave of Fistandantilus
The remainder of the grave contains more mechanical and technological traps, that are just as senseless as the chamber of the mechanical hydra, and they can be explained in much the same sense.
Of interest is only the encounter with Fistandantilus, which again is one the annoying scrptied encounters, that had my players asking all kinds of awkward questions, as they wanted to explore the room further and interact more with Fistandantilus the demi-lich.
In this interpretation he is of course an AI, and he can manipulate nano-particles or holograph projectors to create a manifestation with which he can present himself and interact with the PCs. Since this is just a manifestation and his mainframe is securely hidden away, he is safe from harm, and he can ignore the PCs at his own leisure. He can be manifested as a disinterested, incorporeal avatar, that might deign to answer a few questions, but otherwise just ignores the PCs. In this room is also the controllers for the Skeleton Warriors, and with these the mechanized armors and their highjacked semi-AIs can be put to a rest.
One main point in this encounter is to demonstrate, that not all holographic manifestations are primitive or automated programs, but that some are fully manifested AIs.
The Dwarven Helmet
Ideally aspects of the this encounter has been foreshadowed in the encounter with the Skeleton Warriors.
From an adventurers view the dwarven helmet might just be a part of a magical armor, and the module does portray it much like this, except that for some reason the owner, a dwarven prince, is tied to it, and is able to magic jar into the wearer of the helmet to tell his story.
This is not a magical helmet. It is an advanced piece of technology not much different from the apparatus that kept Fistandantilus in existence. It can carry an AI, and the previous owner of the helmet was able to leave a remnant of his personality in the helmet to tell his story and ask the heroes to return him to his grave. Briefly before his death he uploaded a part of his personality in order to survive. When the helmet is worn, he can use the technology to briefly download into the wearer to tell his story.
As to the dwarf aspect it is removed, as there are no dwarves in DragonLance, only the degenerate Aghar. Instead as detailed in the secret history post the dwarves are nothing but humans, and some of them fell and degenerated into the Aghar. So the owner of the helmet is human from Thorbaddin.
In the Tomb of Fistandantilus the PC’s access an old computer, that has satellite maps of the lands for 300 years ago, and these maps show the route to the secret intrance to Thorbaddins realm. The mission is accomplished, the PCs har their map, and now it just a matter of leading the refugees to the gates, where DL4 Dragons of Desolation begins.
DL3 possesses the second best dungeon in the DragonLance-series so far. It is far more interesting than Pax Tharkas, but the sunken city of Xak Tsaroth is superior. The travel section of DL3 is way more interesting than the scripted sequence of DL2, and more varied and interesting than the journey in DL1. However most importantly this module is where the science fantasy of DragonLance becomes truly obvious, and this trend continues in DL4, which however is a new low in the series due to its scripted encounters and vaguely interesting dungeon sequence.