plundering Dragonlance: fear is the shepherd

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series dragonlance

At one point in Dragons of Autumn Twilight, the heroes encounter a black dragon, and, under the influence of its fear aura, scatter like the comically low-level PCs that they are. Some of them make for a mysterious temple, in which they may face even more sinister threats.

Except they don’t. It turns out to be a Good temple filled with plot-advancing blessings. But there was an opportunity there to really put the screws to the players.

A dragon (or another monster, or a magical effect) that causes fear can be used to herd players in a direction that they really don’t want to go. Imagine if the heroes had peeked into the temple, and seen eldritch creepiness and wrongness of all sorts. As they try to leave, the dragon pops up. Characters who fail their saving throws are under movement constraints: their movement must take them farther from the dragon, if there is such a path available. Characters who pass their saving throw might still think it’s a good idea to move away from the dragon.

Movement away from the dragon inexorably draws the PCs closer to the entrance of the evil temple.

The really frustrating thing here is that the DM doesn’t move the PCs into the temple; they go themselves. Their options are limited to standing to face the dragon and entering the temple under their own power.

Here’s another fear-based DM trick inspired by the dragons of Dragons of Autumn Twilight:

So terrible, so agonized was the scream that Tanis dug his fingernails into his palms to keep from adding his own voice to that horrible wail and revealing himself to the dragon.

The PCs are hiding in the dark from a monster. (Maybe this is one of these encounters that is a little too tough to face head-on.) The monster has a fear-based attack that imposes penalties on the PCs: maybe attack penalties, maybe movement penalties.

The monster has another attack, used for locating cowering prey. It can attack the minds of anyone within a certain radius and make them scream in terror. It uses the scream to home in on its victim.

Here’s an odd note: in the original game module, we find this text: “The dragon wears a ring of darkness which projects up to a radius of 100′.” ON WHAT?

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4 Responses to “plundering Dragonlance: fear is the shepherd”

  1. SAROE says:

    Isn’t there something about Rings (or all magic clothing/jewelry) resizing themselves to fit the wearer? Or am I remembering something from elsewhere? If so, a ring would fit on a dragon’s claw.

  2. 1d30 says:

    Or do you mean on what does it project? Is it a sphere of darkness centered on the dragon with a 100′ radius, or a more standard darkness spell (say, 15′ radius) which can be cast upon something within a 100′ range?

    Can it be turned off? Can the dragon see through it? (I thought Darkness also blocked Infravision)

    Even if the dragon can’t see through it, maybe his senses are keen enough to pinpoint where enemies are even if he still has the -4 to hit, etc. Or maybe his keen senses act like Blind Fighting, which is fine since all his attacks are melee except a pretty large-area breath weapon.

    If it can be turned off, the dragon could pulse it off and on quickly, while subvocalizing *dnn-tss dnn-tss dnn-tss* like it’s a reverse-rave with draconic house music (and acid!).

  3. Huh, I had forgotten that not all gaming communities had bone-deep objections to Fear effects of all kinds, the way mine does.

  4. 1d30 says:

    Yeah I think some players really don’t like it when they don’t have complete control over their characters. I like to think of D&D as, in some cases, good training for real life. Organization, basic math, planning, dispute resolution, communication in general. Learning to deal with loss of your character may help prepare the player emotionally for loss in real life. The emotional maturity to elegantly handle a time in your life when you don’t have control of things is important. For that reason I’d say things like permanent energy drain, geas, charm, paralysis, fear, etc. are vital parts of the D&D experience.

    Similarly, risk of loss of all types is important for a meaningful D&D game. “Let’s make this interesting” sort of thing. It’s not interesting, at least to me, if success and even bounty are guaranteed. I may be getting goodies, but I know for an absolute fact I didn’t earn them.

    That must be balanced against a competing interest, that of the player having experiences in a D&D game that he doesn’t get in reality. Most of us are not strong valiant warriors, few of us are feared, fewer respected or admired. Many have money troubles. The lure of playing a game where you can experience a life of power and excitement – and golden wealth – is kinda cool.

    I guess what I’m saying is a player who wants to have control of his character because he has general feelings of impotence could reasonably expect that out of a game. But I have less sympathy for a player who just isn’t emotionally equipped to deal with the hardship of not always getting his way. How do you improve? By experiencing that hardship. And a game gives you a nice safe venue for that experience.

    Personally, I feel that it’s a tit for tat. Players have charm spells, fear spells, etc. The monsters should have that stuff too. It makes the game interesting. And in practice, something like a fear effect usually doesn’t result in an A or B choice – the player could run away from the dragon down the street, a C choice. It would just be a gamble as to whether the dragon would pursue that PC.

    In summary, I’d say agency-restricting effects like Fear and Charm are excellent components of D&D when used in moderation.

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