Welcome back to the Dragonlance Reread! Last week we met a dragon and a goddess. This week—gully dwarves and draconians.
That means the party stands a chance, right? Right? Well, that’s ok, because Raistlin’s looking out for us. Rest easy, Heroes.
As always, we’re going to keep the reread post spoiler-free, but the comments are open to any and all discussion, so proceed with caution!
“The Paths of the Dead. Raistlin’s New Friends.” and “Fight at the Lift. Bupu’s Cure for a Cough.”
Everyone wakes from a nice little snooze in the sanctity of the temple. No one is dead. No one is barbecue. They have a little breakfast, Raistlin does a spot of homework and drinks a nasty brew that makes the whole temple reek. Everyone knows that no matter how much he crams those spells, he can’t do any magic on Onyx. He may be the best but dragons are the bestest.
Time to move on. The gang take an itinerary of their weapons: a two handed sword, a few longswords, a draconian battle-axe, miscellaneous daggers & a whispered prayer from Goldmoon—they’ve got gear, no problems there, bring it on. Wait, no—none of this is effective against a dragon, but hey, it helps to make lists when you’re stressed, right?
The kender can’t imagine anything more exciting than seeing a real live dragon. He’s obviously forgotten all about last night. Oh, Tas, you fool. The least he can do is run ahead and scout out the ruins, so he does.
Meanwhile more doubts cast on what Raistlin gave up for his powers in the Test—what did he sacrifice? His health or his… soul? Caramon leaps to his defense but the brothers are obviously hiding something. There are more dark secrets for Raistlin to cough and splutter over, while Caramon does what Caramon does and stands firm, protecting his brother as always. Once this tense moment passes, the companions try to work out what is next. Riverwind remembers nothing from his previous visit here when he was given the magical staff, other than the dragon, but then who can forget her?
Tanis wonders why they have been chosen for this quest—yes, why indeed?
And yet they move on to find that the Hall of Ancestors is now a Hall of Ruins—things are utterly dismal—is that clear yet? The crumbling building, the holes in the floor and a strange screeching coming from down the hall. Some strange short, fat creatures rush by and no one seems to know what they are or what they want—though they seem unthreatening.
But then Flint recognises them by their smell and declares that they are gully dwarves or Aghar, the nasty filthy creatures that he loathes, especially since he had been captured by them and kept prisoner for three years during the time the gang had gone their own way. This is something he hasn’t told anyone yet, not even Tanis.
The others don’t dwell on this too much, because they need to use their collective peer pressure and manipulation to trick Flint into following the dwarves (is it just me or is Flint often tricked into things? It’s mean), who turn out to be slaves of the more intelligent, quick-thinking and physically superior draconians. Goldmoon—oh so good Goldmoon—notices that the Aghar are scabby and filthy and ragged, as if the draconians would keep their slaves freshly bathed, healthy and well.
And finally, Raistlin pulls rank over the others and and enchants the herd of gully dwarves into being his bffs. How? Well, first he does some Magic 101 vanishing coin tricks to get their attention and then he speaks a spell over them. Of course, instead of being grateful that the mage is pulling his weight around here, the others worry about this—Tanis notes that Raistlin could have cast the same spell on any of them at any time.
Still, Raistlin’s new buddies aren’t very helpful because they aren’t very bright. One of them, a female leader called Bupu, develops a bit of a crush on Raistlin (I mean, who hasn’t, right?), and manages to lead everyone into what seems to be the correct direction. While everyone else walks, Raistlin crowd-surfs gully dwarves to where they need to get, because that’s just how he rolls.
There’s a screeching noise that reveals itself as a giant pulley system, based around a wheel that raises and lowers draconians and Aghar between the ground floor and the deep pits below in giant pots. Here be ‘pots full of big bosses’, Bupu tells everyone.
Which of course means a big fight scene—but with some some silly comic relief in in it. Many draconians get their heads chopped off. Flint gets crushed under Caramon’s huge feet. There is fighting in giant pots.
‘They’ll cut the lummox to jerky down there’ says Sturm and I don’t even know what that means but I think it has to do with Caramon not being very clever.
The pot warfare carries on and, eventually, the good guys get away, with much to thank Raistlin for, since he uses simple non-magic smarts—and a stick—to jam the wheel, and he rallies the gully dwarves into grabbing the pulley chain and saves the others from certain death.
Bupu thinks Raistlin is pretty and won’t let her boss draconians get him, so she helps them sneak through a slimy pipe into a chamber filled with bags of flour, via a doorway she opens up with ‘magic’ (she steps on a hidden lever but thinks the rat she’s holding up does the trick, isn’t she sweet?).
Bupu also gives Raistlin an emerald from the mangy sack she carts around. The emerald is gorgeous and Tas wants it. Bupu also gives Raistlin a dead lizard on a cord to hang around his neck and cure his cough. No one wants the lizard.
[Aside! In the Annotated Chronicles, Tracy Hickman shares a story from 1986. He was briefly hospitalised with a kidney problem, and completely off his face on Demerol for three days (Hickman cites an over-eager doctor and his own clean living). Apparently a bunch of friends, including Margaret Weis, rocked up and gave Hickman a Bupu-style lizard on a string to wear for good luck. Except the stoned Hickman never took it off, causing the hospital staff to think he was completely bonkers. Guys, the Annotated Chronicles is kind of awesome.]
Monster(s) of the Week
More draconians. They are clearly our baseline monsters, thrown in whenever a little fight scene is needed. Nothing new here, other than the fact that they enslave gully dwarves to do some of their dirty work for them, and since the gully dwarves are such daft little creatures anyway, we can hate the draconians even more for abusing them so.
Speaking of gully dwarves—I wouldn’t say they were monsters, given how pathetic and miserable they are, but how on earth did they manage to capture Flint and hold him against his will for three years? There’s something fishy here, don’t you think?
‘They’ll cut the lummox to jerky down there’
Sturm says about Caramon who is trapped in a pot with some draconians, before launching himself down the chain into the melee too. Honestly, how do this lot ever win fights?
‘They are now spellbound. I have cast over them a spell of friendship.’
Oh man, Raistlin, where have you been hiding this spell all this time? If only you’d thought of it earlier, you could have tried being friends with a dragon! Oh I know, his magic won’t work on the dragon but one can dream. Anyway, this is a really handy spell.
‘What did you sacrifice in that Tower? Your health—or your soul!’
Sturm to Raistlin. He just doesn’t let up, does he? Caramon comes through as Raistlin’s wingman and insists that… actually I don’t know what he’s insisting. Obviously Raistlin gave up something but Caramon wants—needs—the companions to believe that his brother is still human, still whole and not evil. Caramon is so boring.
I want very much to like these two chapters. I want to really enjoy the bumbling comic relief of the gully dwarves, the hilarious crush Bupu the female leader of the Aghar has on Raistlin, I want to enjoy her sweet little attempts at ‘magic’ (it’s not magic—it’s coincidence, they’re just too pathetic to actually do magic), I even want to like the fight scenes with the giant wheel and giant pots o’ draconians. But somehow, it’s just… not great.
I suppose after that magnificent dragon last week this is a bit of a let down—what wouldn’t be, except more of Onyx? What I do really like about these chapters is how Raistlin takes over a little bit—he’s got this, you guys! Of course, since his methods are all brainy and quiet-like, we need some action from the brawn end of this gang to break up the… um, lack of physical action? So yes, Sturm muscles his way into the scene and what do you know? A fight! I really do believe Raistlin had this, honestly.
It’s interesting that Tanis’ first thought is that Raistlin could have used the friendship spell on any of them, at any point. I have a few simultaneous thoughts at this moment:
- Is he afraid that Raistlin can control them because he doesn’t trust Raistlin?
- Is he afraid that Raistlin may have used this spell in the past on the gang?
- Why is he worried, aren’t they all friends anyway? All this does is make us realise that Raistlin really isn’t part of this gang and that they are genuinely, constantly afraid and/or threatened by him. This, of course, complicates the group’s dynamics even further, given that they are already fairly fraught with distrust and various bits of baggage that each person carries.
Which of course leads us—and them—to once again wonder just why they were chosen for this quest? Why them? Frankly, after this ridiculous fight with the pots o’ draconians, I’m wondering the very same thing.
After two months of agreement, a point of dissension! I think these chapters are great: a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl, combined with a great whacking whompery of a fight. A really inventive battlefield with a lot of chaos, but, despite all the moving parts, the authors do a good job of conveying all the action without ever being confusing. It is a pretty cool fight, and, on top of that, I like the creepy, crawly (and gross and squishy) ruined setting.
Obviously Mahvesh and I are now going to have a Heroes of the Lance style falling out, and sulk at one another until Tanis yells at us. Because that’s always effective leadership.
However, like Mahvesh, I really like the bits where Raistlin takes over. And I think he does so in a remarkable way. Here’s what he does:
- Knows the name of where they are in Xak Tsaroth, and where they are going.
- He’s the guide until the Gully Dwarves take over.
- Charms the Gully Dwarves with a little sleight of hand.
- Charms the Gully Dwarves with Charm.
- Prevents a bucketload of draconians from killing his friends by timing the mechanism on the pot-pulley and then jamming his staff into it.
- Retrieves his friends from the pit of doom by getting Gully Dwarves to jump on one of the chains.
- Convinces the Gully Dwarves to find them an alternate route.
That’s over a half-dozen things, most of which are incredibly helpful and only one of which actually involves him using magic. He’s just smarter than everyone else, and despite being armed with a stick and a coin, he manages to navigate the party through the first few levels of the dungeon. That’s pretty phenomenal.
On the other end of the stick (or reverse of the coin, your metaphor of choice), the party again fails to use any sort of consistent strategy. Like with the battle on the road to Haven, everyone randomly rushes in to whack at the foe—ignoring any sort of tactical intelligence or, I don’t know, basic coordination. This is pretty much every group I’ve ever gamed with, which leads to another of those fundamental Chronicles vs Modules disconnect: players behave like this, characters shouldn’t. The Heroes may be great at goblins, but, then, they’re also much bigger/better/more powerful than goblins. When the odds are more even—say, draconians are involved—they’re surprisingly rubbish.
Oh, if you’re keeping track of TanisFails, he gets bonked in the head. Probably not his fault, but, hey. Whatever.
And finally, for those that—like me—are now starting to doubt Sturm’s coolness (and possibly sanity), there’s the bit where he refers to goblins as inherently “evil”. This is obviously just a reflection of the game mechanics (all goblins = evil), but taken out of RPG context, it is a little weird. An entire race/species = ‘evil’, as if they don’t have intelligence or free will.
This is an especially unfortunate throwaway when Riverwind’s earlier elf-racism is taken into account. Riverwind believed all elves were evil, but then Tanis changed his mind (kind of). So we know that these blanket generalisations can be wrong… so… should we start worrying about the goblin deathcount?
Or more likely, Sturm is a budding serial killer. Raistlin should charm him now, for the party’s sake.
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.