Dragonlance Reread

The Dragonlance Chronicles Reread: Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Chapters 3 and 4

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Welcome back to our reread of the Dragonlance Chronicles! This week’s chapters contain the last of the character introductions, and all the niceties aside, things fling into action!

As always, although the recaps themselves are spoiler free, the comments are open to Dragonlance readers of all experience levels.

Caution, this week’s recap contains math.

“Knight of Solamnia. The Old Man’s Party.” and “The Open Door. Flight into Darkness.”

AND WE’RE OFF. Chapter 3 is a hotbed of action, as we meet the final members of the adventuring party and get thrust out into action.

When we last saw our companions, they were dealing with the fact that Kitiara—Raistlin and Caramon’s half-sister, fierce warrior, and Tanis’ snuggle-bunny—had broken her oath to rejoin the group. The boys are struggling with their feelings when the most oath-tastic (oathful?) of their friends appears: Sturm! Sturm rocks up in old-school armor and a cloud of adjectives that include “noble,” “great,” “pride,” and “gallant.” He’s a knight! (A fact reinforced by the use of the word “knight” six times in the first two paragraphs. In case you missed it—“knight.” Knightknightknight.) Also, he has a rocking moustache, since ruined by George Mendez on Orange is the New Black.

Sturm hugs it out with his bros, and explains that he (a) also has no idea where Kitiara is, and (b) he picked up a pair of barbarians on his way in. This cues a lot of leering, as one of them is like, smokin’ hawt, yo. “All were immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of the Plainswoman.” There’s also a lot of discussion about the search for a blue crystal staff. It seems that goblins—and others—are on the prowl for one. Cue: much pondering about blue crystal staves, further discussion of armies to the north (WE GET IT) and Raistlin saying ominous stuff, because he’s still awesome, and he’d rather be a Dementor than a fratboy.

The group assembled, the Mysterious Old Man kicks stuff into gear. He gets Goldmoon (that’s the hottie’s name) to sing a little song. She does. About herself (weird?) and—although it goes totally unnoticed—she mentions a blue crystal staff in the lyrics. Twice. Fortunately, no one seems to be paying attention. Also, she’s carrying a staff. Just saying. HMM.

That attempt at a plothook failed, the Mysterious Old Man takes to telling overtly religious stories about the Old Gods. This finally gets the attention of Hederick, the local Seeker/theocrat/etc. Hederick gets grumpy, yells at the Old Man, yells at Goldmoon and, accordingly, gets told to STEP OFF by Goldmoon’s pal (Riverwind, although we’re not yet introduced). He stumbled into a fire and it is all looking a bit crispy until the Old Man hands Tasslehoff the staff, Tas knocks the half-roasted Hederick down and WHAMMO. BLUE CRYSTAL AND MAGIC HEALING AND WTF.

Just to reinforce the ZOMGness of it all, the Mysterious Old Man yells that Tas, Tanis, Goldmoon et. al. are clearly rogue mercenary terrorist old god zealot staff-holders and the townsfolk start reaching for their torch and pitchfork sets. After a bit of faffing, the group make a hasty exit from the inn.

Chapter 4 is just straight up railroading, punctuated by Tanis’ feelz. This is a young man in desperate need of some gifsets. The group are all hanging out in Tika’s place. They finally introduce themselves (Goldmoon, Riverwind, this is everyone. Everyone, this is Goldmoon and Riverwind.) and decide that whatever is going on, it is interesting enough to see how it plays out. But maybe they’ll lay low for a while and… oops.

Some goblin guards wander in doing a house-to-house check, Caramon does a rather amazing Lennie impression and accidentally kills them, and—whammo. The gang hits the road.

 

Notable Quotes

The good

“Run? From this rabble?”

Sturm, when Tanis explains they need to get the hell out of dodge. This really is one of the best lines. It explains Sturm in a sentence (dude does not run), is a bit of hilarious badassery, and reminds us all of how damn annoying it is to play D&D with a paladin.

Earlier, he’s asked about his inheritence, and he says “I wear it.” I like how downplayed he is; a pleasant counterbalance to Tanis’ melodrama. One chapter in, and Sturm may be my favourite.

Well, except for Raistlin. Who finally does a bit of magic, and leaps down a forty foot drop, rather than climb a rope. (A shout out to all my homies in middle school PE class there.) I realise I’m coming down a bit hard on Tanis here, but when the half-elf ranger slips and rope-burns his hands for forty feet, I couldn’t help but chortle. Way to roll a 1, beardy.

The bad

Same scenario:

“…the exit, which was nothing more than a hole cut in the floor. A rope hung from a sturdy limb above the hole and dropped forty feet to the ground.” [Goldmoon passes the magic staff of plotpushing to Riverwind, then climbs down.] “When she reached the bottom, her companion tossed the staff down.”

Wait. What? Are you kidding? Over and above the odds of pitching a staff straight down to someone forty feet away in the middle of the night, wouldn’t that be really, really dangerous? And nigh on uncatchable?! “HEY GOLDMOON, CATCH!” (chucks log straight down at her head)

Math time!

According to the AD&D DMG (1st edition), a quarterstaff (wooden—the staff had transformed back, so at least Riverwind isn’t chucking brittle blue rock-glass at his ladylove’s head) weighs 5 lbs (2.2 kg). And a 40 foot drop is approximately 12.2 meters. With gravity being what it is, the staff has accelerated to 15.7 m/s (or 35 miles per hour), and Goldmoon has about one and a half seconds from ‘incoming!’ to ‘catch!’.

That’s assuming a) it goes straight down (which means all that force is concentrated on about 4 square cm of pointy wooden staff-butt) or b) it wiggles a tiny bit (as long thin objects tend to do, when you pitch them out of a hole) and you’ve got staff going everywhere at high speed. Basically, not an impossible catch, but more Odell Beckham Jr than a low-level cleric with Dex 14 (no modifiers, according to Dragons of Mystery)..

Which is to say, if I were the DM, Goldmoon would’ve been better off diving for cover.

As if to compensate, we also get BONUS SCIENCE in Chapter 3, as Tasslehoff talks about seeing flying plants, whose “roots suck food and water out of the atmosphere”. It is actually a cute exchange, with Caramon being excited and Flint being annoyed, but “atmosphere”? In defense of Tas’ erudition, the OED notes that this might not be too anachronistic (the term was first used in the 17th century, although not quite in this sense). I suspect ‘atmosphere’ is used here to avoid the repetition of the word ‘air’, earlier in the same paragraph. But given the knight knight knight repetition already used elsewhere, that’s a strangely fussy line to draw.

Of course, the plains barbarian Goldmoon also mentions “glaciers” in her song, which aren’t exactly native to… plains. So let’s just assume that everyone here is extremely well-educated. Except about the armies to the north. Which are a mystery to all.

 

Monster of the Week

No new monsters. We’ve got a second-hand maybe-monster though. Kitiara’s messenger, as described by Tika: “He was wrapped head to foot in clothing of every description. I couldn’t even see his face. His voice was hissinglike and he spoke with a strange accent.” My monster-sense is tingling, but who knows?

 

Jared’s Take

Is anyone else really, really annoyed at the Mysterious Old Man? As well as his chronic need to push everyone around, and his weird fickleness—flitting between everyone’s buddy to “those are the droids you’re looking for!”—there’s that whole “I know your name” act. Tika and Goldmoon both think “that’s a bit odd that he knows who I am” but are weirdly fine with their adventuredoxxing.

Have you ever tried doing that in an RPG? Players aren’t willing to let that sort of crap slide. If a Mysterious Old Man actually did something like that in a game, the group would spend the next half-session interrogating him with Burning Hands. That’s not the sort of thing that people let slide.

In the introduction to The Annotated Chronicles, Tracy Hickman talks about “wrestling with” the challenges of trying to write the games and the novels at the same time. And how, as the former was the priority, the latter sometimes, um, “suffered”. (My word, not his. But he’s also pretty tough on himself, which makes me respect him all the more.) I think this is one of those situations. Tanis’s LiveJournalling aside, the game doesn’t have time to get people moving in a more natural fashion. The Old Man is here to push them over that not-so-metaphoric 40 ft drop. So, yes, this is a chapter of improbabilities and blatant railroading, but I appreciate the situation.

 

Mahvesh’s Take

It’s hard to come up with anything worthwhile after Jared has placed Dragonlance and Of Mice and Men together in one post—I can’t believe I didn’t ever see the Lennie-ness of Caramon’s ‘I hit them too hard’ before.

So these two chapters are just full of action, aren’t they? A lot of stuff happens and a lot of stuff is really very annoying too. Especially, of course, the old man. Is his primary purpose just to further the plot, to spur the others into action? That can’t be it though, since he’s so strangely full of detailed information on the strangers who have come to town.

I’m already uncomfortable at this stage by Dragonlance’s dodgy race-related descriptions. The barbarian man Riverwind is ‘dark skinned’ as all Plainsmen are. But the barbarian woman Goldmoon is ‘like marble’ with silver-gold hair, unlike the usual sort of dark-haired and dark-skinned Plainsmen and as it happens, she’s devastatingly beautiful too. It bothers me that she can’t be dark-skinned and beautiful—in fact, a quick Google search will show you many, many light-skinned blonde Goldmoons and my cover of Chronicles has her in something resembling Native American cosplay. In fact, it bothers me that the Plainsmen are created as a sort of lazy Native American stereotype, with a feathered staff and healing powers to boot. Wikipedia tells me that Weis’ original idea for Goldmoon was to have her look ‘Native American with a Celtic touch’, which is just a very odd combination. Still, Dragonlance isn’t exactly known for sensitive racial diversity, and there is probably worse to come that I’ve repressed since my first reading.

Ultimately, what bothered me most in these two chapters was Goldmoon’s passivity. She’s only once assertive in keeping her staff—yet a few minutes later the old man grabs it from her unhindered, Tas uses it with ease and hangs out amazed at what it’s done for a while before he drops it and Goldmoon picks it up. It all seems very slack, doesn’t it? When just a few minutes ago Riverwind was willing to drop-kick the Theocrat for attempting to touch the staff?

Since I’m basically listing all the annoying things here, let me agree that Tanis really is just useless. While I know we needed further empirical proof of Goldmoon and her staff’s healing abilities, really Tanis, really? Rope burn?! The little kender managed to climb down it. Hey, even the fancypants Chieftain’s daughter with her white-blonde perfection managed it! Tsk.

(Incidentally, it appears that Goldmoon catches the staff. It’s magic, okay Jared?!)

I am intrigued by the missing Kitiara, about whom we are given strange mixed information. She is a mercenary but serves a ‘new lord’ now and though she seems to have loved boring-ass accident prone Tanis in the past, we are told she is ‘wild, impetuous, hot tempered’. Something doesn’t add up here, and I for one can not wait to find out more

Next week we attempt to answer some pertinent questions: Will we find out where Kitiara is and who she serves? What are the barbarians hiding and is Raistlin on to them? Why isn’t Tanis more interesting? And what is up with the old man?! So many questions, so many possibilities.


Mahvesh loves dystopian fiction & appropriately lives in Karachi, Pakistan. She writes about stories & interviews writers the Tor.com podcast Midnight in Karachi when not wasting much too much time on Twitter.

Jared Shurin is an editor for Pornokitsch and the non-profit publisher Jurassic London.

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