What Do I Know About First Impressions? Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen (D&D 5e), Part Six
Chapter 7: Siege of Kalaman
This is the final “adventure” chapter of the book. This can be a little confusing, because this isn’t the Siege of Kalaman as described in the Dragonlance Chronicles, but an earlier point in the War of the Lance. “A” Siege.
Essentially, the PCs need to be able to infiltrate a location, but while they are waiting to have the means to do that, they end up encountering various elements of Red Dragonarmy forces that need to be repelled. In general, I like all of these encounters.
It follows that same format that I’m not a fan of from previous chapters, where you have a list of encounters, and are told to run however many you want. But I can live with that, because I like the encounters.
Up in the Air
There is one encounter that doesn’t so much pay off in another plot critical moment, so much as it foreshadows that moment. I wish there were a little bit of payoff where “if you help X here, you get an additional benefit later on when it shows up again.” Essentially, you help a creature that comes back to help you later, but another version of it shows up if you didn’t help this particular creature.
There is a certain NPC that got played up as an iconic villain that I wish had some other build-up in the adventure, since they only really get one scene. If you saw any of the videos about Red Ruin, the ace Dragonnel rider of the Red Dragonarmy, that’s the one. I wish there had either been a few encounters where she did a hit-and-run, or at least there was a little bit of rumor of her building up to this moment.
The Fork in the road
There are two board game interactions in this chapter, and the first one is to play through a scenario to simulate fighting to get to an area to continue the PCs mission, versus running an encounter that lets you cut to that rendezvous.
If the PCs decide they don’t want to take the shortcut, however, there isn’t a way to model that without playing through the scenario, and honestly, from a roleplaying point of view, I can see characters not being thrilled with the shortcut, from a very Dragonlance point of view. It has to do with gnomes, is what I’m saying. And a gnomeflinger.
The rendezvous site is another “skirmish” map with a border that simulates intrusions from a wider combat, and honestly, I like these. They all work similarly, but with different events that can spawn from the “fray” section of the map. From here, the PCs will be flying via wild dragonnels up to the Bastion of Takhisis.
During the infiltration, there is one definite encounter, and another encounter that can be triggered if the PCs aren’t stealthy, and where the fight happens (i.e. there is fall damage involved) there are some high stakes. This also pays off another NPC interaction, as one of the PCs foils ends up on the other side of the war.
This section feels very heavily like a lot of encounters with no real chance for rest, which I’m not opposed to, especially in the context of the narrative, but I can also see PCs really getting themselves into trouble burning through resources.
The big famous NPC that the PCs need to confront, Lord Soth, is not one they are likely able to oppose directly, so I like that there are redundant NPCs that the PCs can encounter that will present them with the idea that there may be another way to deal with him. I like that introducing the backstory for Lord Soth helps to set up why he’s vulnerable to the item that PCs are pointed towards.
There is a side tangent where the PCs can gather some information by getting themselves morally dirty, that feels like the kind of Dragonlance thing to temp someone with, but I worry that it isn’t framed in quite the “fall to the dark side” manner that it should be. On the other hand, it also exemplifies the “evil turns upon itself” side of things, as Chemosh’s servants helped set up the Bastion of Takhisis, but they don’t necessarily stay loyal after the fact.
As an aside, there is a lot going on in this chapter, so I don’t want to be too negative about where they spend the extra words to emphasize an encounter. For the most part, I think they made the right choices, and making sure you add extra nuance to everything is a quick way to balloon your word count.
If you use the special item to incapacitate the Immovable Force (Soth), the next puzzle is to figure out how to shut down the evil artifact, and how to quench it. Once that’s done, we’ve got another load-bearing plot point, where the PCs need to figure out how to get out safely. This is effectively the “use the Blue Crystal Staff to kill Onyx” moment, except it’s using the Dragonlance to right a wrong connected to the artifact.
The Beginning of the End
Essentially, in the climax of this adventure, the PCs face one big bad that they need a special item to incapacitate, another big bad whose history is tied to the City of Lost Names, and the final big bad, which will be the big bad that allows them to route the Dragonarmy.
The final fight, which involves Dragon Highmaster Kansaldi and her dragon mount, is also framed as one of those skirmish maps with a “fray” border, so they are effectively facing off against the head of what’s left of the Dragonarmy.
The final Warriors of Krynn board game scenario is another scenario that only happens if you have the board game, and doesn’t have a different encounter resolution to play in a skirmish. In this case, if the players win, they get some “campaign rewards.” This includes some nice gear, but unless you are continuing the campaign with your own material, this gear is essentially just bragging rights.
The very last thing to happen in the adventure officially is a contextual message letting you know that certain events of the War of the Lance are still going to happen, but you did a good job scuttling a batch of undead dragons and a Red Dragonarmy superweapon. Implied cameo by a mysteriously threatening note.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with this adventure. I’ve seen other WotC adventures that I liked, but where I felt like the ending missed the mark. I think this one pretty well nailed it, hitting the proper note for a heroic ending
I think this adventure did a great job threading the story of a member of the Order of High Sorcery throughout. I think the reclamation and use of the Dragonlance is a wonderful note to hit, and fighting a Dragon Highmaster while she’s mounted on her red dragon is a pretty damn epic and iconic moment for a Dragonlance campaign.
Making the undead dragons that Soth resurrects not chromatic dragons, but metallic dragons with a tragic backstory, fits in perfectly with other elements from the War of the Lance, like the fate of the metallic dragon eggs. While there are times when “do this one thing to take out a threat that’s out of your league” can feel unsatisfying in some adventures, I think that they spend enough time selling Soth’s backstory that you should be able to use this plot point without it feeling contrived.
We also get a good balance of meeting people that the PCs can care about, worrying about the fate of the people displaced by war, and arguing with people over petty politics in the face of a greater threat, again, all Dragonlance hallmarks. We even get a nice progression of a squire that acts like a knight even without the proper support for his actions.
This brings me to one of my few downsides on this. For all the hype surrounding the Knights of Solamnia, there isn’t as much support for A Knight’s Tale (you know what I mean) in this adventure. There is no one that can promote a PC knight, or convene a conclave to induct them, which means if they just level up taking Solamnic Order feats, the DM will need to add in their own supports, and doing so kind of undermines the NPC who has been waiting until all the trouble is over before he can officially join the knighthood.
The lack of knights actually makes sense for the regions around Kalaman, but it might have been nice to have had at least some kind of more specific time when a Knight’s Conclave could have invited the PC to argue their admission into an order, even as we get the Orders of High Sorcery popping in here and there. I know, just like Sturm, the PCs could be Solamnic Squires that never get promoted until after the adventure, and just learn the knightly skills of the order, but I still would have liked just a wee bit more in this regard.
On the other hand, you get to fight a tragic, purple-flaming undead gold dragon on a falling platform with the Dragonlance that killed it when it’s alive, so I really don’t want to complain too much.