Warning -- Spoilers for module DL1 Dragons of Despair (and probably some minor spoilers for the novel Dragonlance Chronicles 1: Dragons of Autumn Twilight).
So today, in my West Marches 5E game, after getting screwed over by the Deck of Many Things last session, the small party (Denis, whose Rogue Ferret Jax got imprisoned by the Donjon card last time, playing a new Gnome Rogue Mervin; Renee, Denis' daughter, playing her Fairy Princess Goldie [reskinned Tiefling Warlock]; Flynn, my son, playing both Calvin the Half-Orc Paladin [current character] and Titan the Dragonborn Cleric [retired character]) entered the 'lost city' for which I'm using the map and key of the ruins of Xak Tsaroth from the first Dragonlance module.
Now, we all know, Dragonlance is a railroad ride of a series of modules. But a long time ago, before I started the West Marches campaign, I had briefly considered making a more sandbox-y game in Krynn using the dungeons from the DL modules. That way I could have all the cool Krynn flavor (which as a teen was my favorite flavor of D&D) without the constraints of having to follow the plot.
But I wasn't sure it would work, and I wasn't sure if the players would dig the Krynn setting (or if I would 25+ years later to be honest) so I dropped the idea. But I've been peppering the West Marches with classic module dungeons, and decided the 'swamp dungeon' would use this one.
So anyway, after last session's debacle before the party had even made it into the ruins really, this time they headed in and things did not go as Tracy Hickman had envisioned.
Just inside the ruins is an ambush of six Bozak (spell-casting) draconians. The new rogue, Mervin, has Expertise in Perception so it's really high, and he easily spotted the ambush. Titan the Dragonborn notices that these "dragonborn" are different, but can't quite figure out what it is that's different. Goldie the Fairy Princess decides to invite them to play. Rolls really well for diplomacy (she's a Charisma caster after all). They come out friendly-like, and invite the party to pray.
The party goes along with this, and is taken to the false wicker dragon plaza, where other draconians are praying. The baaz draconians, at the behest of the bozak priest, give donations of bags of coin. The priest motions for the party to do likewise. Mervin, using his fast hands ability, adds poison to three pouches of gold and hands them over as an offering. The draconian priest takes the coins and gets poisoned (minor damage), and all the draconians rush to his aid.
Not sure if these guys are really friendly or not, the party decides to offer a healing potion to the priest...and notice as they get close that the dragon is a fake. They try to announce this, but the priest shuts them up in time and whispers to them to follow him to meet the real dragon. He leads them to the well where in the book Khisanth appears and blasts Riverwind with acid breath. The priest starts singing a song to call the dragon (Calvin understands, since he speaks Draconic). The party decides to avoid a dragon at this point and heads into the Temple of Mishakal.
After debating whether they could get the massive gold doors out through the swamp or not (I hope they don't forget this part, each door weighs more than a ton! The logistical nightmare of dragging them through a swamp and then through 30+ miles of wilderness to get them to town would make a fun session!), they press on. In the temple, they head down the steps and after poking around a little and recovering a box of gems from a ledge in a room with no floor (using Goldie's mage hand), they meet the gully dwarves standing in line to go down the iron pot lift. Ignoring the dwarves for now, they head down the corridor to the pully room, just as the draconians in it snap their whips to summon the dwarves.
In the confusion, the party decides to attack the draconians, but every single attack in the surprise round misses! The draconians, per the module instructions, flee and jump in the pot to head down below. Calvin and Titan, both very strong characters, jump in and stop the wheel from spinning, then crank it back up. After apologies for the sudden attack, the draconians suggest the party leave and let them get back to work ferrying gully dwarves up and down between the upper level and the mines.
Short on session time, the party retreated out of the ruins, was lucky to avoid further encounters (and being invited back by the original ambush guards, who had no idea the party nearly attacked the priest and did attack the draconians at the pulley).
So, things did not go as planned by Hickman, and that was a good thing. The only combat was a surprise round long, and nothing died. Lots of talking, negotiating, and trying to con (by both sides). And as they venture further into the ruins, they can end up playing the draconians, gully dwarves, and spectral minions off each other as they scheme to get the dragon's treasure and hopefully a golden temple door or two.
And I see that indeed, by ignoring the 'quest' to retrieve the Disks of Mishakal, the dungeon works well for general D&D monkeyshines.
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