[Let's Read] Council of Wyrms

an_idol_mind

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#1
I've noticed a proliferation of "Let's Read" threads and decided to throw my hat in the ring with one of my favorite AD&D supplements, Council of Wyrms. For those unfamiliar with the setting, it allows players to play dragon PCs. Yet while the execution is not perfect, it's remarkably well-done and much higher in quality than a typical AD&D 2nd edition supplement.

I picked up the boxed set not long after it was released and was ridiculed by others in the store for being a power gamer. I think had Council of Wyrms introduced rules for playing dragons in Faerûn or the Flanaess, I could see this line of thinking having some merit - playing dragons alongside other PC races doesn't really work. However, Council of Wyrms introduced a new setting where dragons ruled and the whole campaign was geared toward dragons as PCs. So really, playing a dragon in Council of Wyrms is no more power-gamey than playing in a typical game of Exalted - the game is geared toward your level of power.

There are two versions of Council of Wyrms: a boxed set that came out in 1994 and a hardcover that came out near the end of the AD&D life cycle that was mostly a compilation of the boxed set. I prefer the boxed set not only because that's what I got introduced to the setting with but also because it has some really nice goodies, including a series of reference cards. a poster-sized map of the campaign setting, and a very good poster of the different dragons and their respective sizes, complete with some humanoids standing nearby to offer a comparison as to how massive a dragon really is. Regardless of which version you read, though, the first book/section covers the rules for playing dragons, and that's what I'm tackling first.

Introduction:

Feel the mighty muscles ripple beneath your armored flesh. Hear the wind rush by as each powerful flap of taut, scale-covered wings sends you hurtling forward. Taste the scent of prey as it wafts up from the ground below, rich with fear-soaked sweat. See your quarry through remarkably-keen reptilian eyes that see everything and miss nothing. Touch your tongue to the sharp, daggerlike teeth that fill your crushing jaws as the volatile breath builds inside you. You are a dragon, and all living things shudder at your terrible approach!
The introduction gives a breakdown of what's in the box, which includes a rule book, a campaign book, and an adventure book, three posters detailing the setting, the dragon clans, and the size comparison chart for dragons, and a dozen reference cards that include NPCs and character sheets.

There are three character types in Council of Wyrms. The dragons are the reason folks bought this boxed set, and most of the material is focused on them. PCs are allowed to be metallic or gem dragons but not chromatics, although there's nothing really stopping folks from playing a red dragon besides the typical, "playing evil characters is bad" schtick.

There are also half-dragons, making what I believe to be their first appearance in D&D. Half-dragons are the offspring of polymorphed dragons and their demihuman vassals. They made for decent PC races in AD&D, and I remember playing at least one half-dragon in the Forgotten Realms.

Then there are kindred, which are typical elves, dwarves and gnomes. These kindred share a psychic link with their dragon masters, making them essentially familiars to the dragons. Players are expected to play either a dragon and a kindred or a half-dragon. However, given the scope of the campaign, I can't see a single half-dragon PC not getting overshadowed by the full-blooded dragons in the group.

The introduction also gives an overview of the setting, called Io's Blood Isles. This is a place where dragons rule, governed by the titular Council of Wyrms, and keep watch against human dragonslayers. Kindred work in cooperation with the dragons and, as the text tells us,

Kindred are not slaves. They freely acknowledge the superiority and majesty of dragonkind, and readily offer their services in exchange for leadership and protection.
Were these humanoids being subservient to other humanoids, I might take issue with that statement. But if a dragon says you're not a slave, I'm not inclined to disagree with him.

So...thoughts? Memories? Is this set as interesting yet flawed as I remember, or did it ruin somebody's campaign?
 

Tequila Sunrise

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#3
Ah, such fond memories! CoW certainly is prone to power gaming -- did anyone actually roll to determine dragon PC breed? -- but it's not as if regular AD&D is devoid of power gamer wet dreams.

All in all, CoW is my second-most favorite setting of all time, if only for its sheer novelty. Say what you will, it's the first and only D&D product built around dragon PCs. And what gamer has never wanted to play a dragon?
 

Rachel Cartacos

Social Justice Dragon
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#4
Were these humanoids being subservient to other humanoids, I might take issue with that statement. But if a dragon says you're not a slave, I'm not inclined to disagree with him.
Yeah, if any other species said that I'd be suspicious.

But Dragons, Dragons are objectively superior to all other forms of life! Who wouldn't want to serve them?
 

Susanoo Orbatos

Social Justice Huckster
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#5
Yeah, if any other species said that I'd be suspicious.

But Dragons, Dragons are objectively superior to all other forms of life! Who wouldn't want to serve them?
I know! I mean when elves say that I know its complete crap but when a dragon says it, i readily offer up delicious princesses.
 

sarellion

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#6
Oh the dragons never finishes the sentence. You are not slaves, you are dinner when you aren´t useful any longer.

The setting seems to be quite interesting, only played it once. You asked so I have to say it is tied to the memory of the worst campaign I ever had the pleasure of participating in for three nights. Actually my participation was rolling a character, playing 5 minutes in total over three sesions. I think I quit when I had finished the book together with the other guy sitting at the tabe watching the Dm engage in power tripping with his three friends. He wasn´t mean to us or so, he just more or less ignored us. It was the weirdest experience I ever had roleplaying. I had quite a few bad DMs but never had a guy who invited me to participate and then ignore me.

But the whole thing was probably not a problem of the setting. the Dm houseruled kindred away and told us that we already got polymorph humanoid form.
 
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#7
Were these humanoids being subservient to other humanoids, I might take issue with that statement. But if a dragon says you're not a slave, I'm not inclined to disagree with him.
It's essentially feudalism writ large, isn't it?

I'll be observing this thread--I picked up the hardcover version on the cheap a few months back out of curiosity and a desire for completeness. It includes the poster maps and reference card illustrations shrunk down to 8.5x11 format, as well as the supplemental articles from DRAGON #205 and #206 (expanded dragon slayer options and the Dragon Sage kit).
 

Tequila Sunrise

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#8
But the whole thing was probably not a problem of the setting. the Dm houseruled kindred away and told us that we already got polymorph humanoid form.
That reminds me; I've always thought it weird that only three specific breeds of dragon can polymorph. I mean it's easily house ruled, but it's just such an obvious BBEDragon trick to leave out, ya know?
 

an_idol_mind

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#9
I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that my one published article in Dragon Magazine was “The Western Wyrms,” which gave character creation rules for dragons listed in the Monstrous Manual but not included in this boxed set. I’m sure it got very little use at gaming tables, but it made me quite happy at the time that I had written something that added to one of my favorite campaign settings.

Anyway…

Chapter 1: Creating Characters

”Nothing compares to the power and majesty of dragonkind, and no other dragon compares to the power and majesty of the red dragons.” –Bloodtide the Red
I think gold dragons might have something to say about that…

As with every D&D character creation outline ever, it all begins with ability scores. Interestingly, the racial modifiers for dragons apply right at birth, so from the get-go they are already as dexterous, healthy, smart, wise, and charismatic as they will ever be. The only exception to this rule is Strength, which increases at 1-point increments until level 6.

Dragons do not get bonuses to hit and damage with Strength because, “they have a different kind of musculature and do not make use of weapons that can be augmented by Strength.” I’m willing to buy that as an explanation, though I wonder if that same rule holds true when a dragon is polymorphed into a humanoid form.

A dragon’s weight allowance is the maximum amount they can lift while flying, which I find a little disappointing as it makes the idea of a dragon snatching a cow and carrying it off less likely for a PC – it’s possible for a great wyrm gold dragon to only have a Strength score of 17. On the other hand, I guess dragons don’t have to steal livestock when they’re the dominant species.

In contrast to the weight limits while flying, there are rules for damaging structures using a bend bars/lift gates check modified by size which I find to be suitably dramatic.

Dexterity doesn’t alter a dragon’s reaction rolls, missile attacks, or AC. Instead, it measures how well a dragon manipulates things with its claws (and yes, “it” is the pronoun most often used to describe dragons here). A score below 7 makes even crude manipulation impossible, while a score higher than 13 allows for fine manipulations, such as unrolling scrolls or writing. Dragon mages and priests need at least a 13 Dexterity.

Constitution grants bonus hit points, but not the bonuses available to fighters. It doesn’t allow for regeneration at Constitution 19 or above, which is a shame. The system shock roll does allow for some interesting scenarios, though. Instead of dying on a failed system shock roll, a dragon can get stuck in its polymorphed form with no memory of being a dragon. This state remains for a number of years equal to the amount the check failed by. At 7th level, though, this weakness disappears and dragons can shapeshift at will.

Intelligence allows most of the standard abilities, except for immunity to illusions. Dragons also only get half the normal bonus proficiencies. I’d complain about dragons getting nerfed in the ability scores, but they’re dragons, so they obviously get abilities to compensate later.

High intelligence also gives a dragon a chance to remember who he is after being stuck in another form after half the allotted time is up, using the chance to learn spells percentage. I wish this bit would get expanded a bit more, as it would be nice to know if there’s any way to reverse the polymorph aside from waiting it out. At the very least, a wish spell should do it. Whether a remove curse spell or another polymorph spell would work is apparently up to how merciful the DM is feeling.

For Wisdom, dragons don’t get to use the bonus to save against magic or spell immunity columns because they have their own magical defenses.

Finally, Charisma modifies a dragon’s fear aura. The maximum number of henchmen reflects “the number of nondragons a particular dragon can coax, frighten, or inspire to serve as loyal retainers,” not counting the dragon’s kindred.

Default rolling methods are used for the ability scores, albeit with massive racial bonuses for dragon characters. Half-dragons get some pretty nice bonuses, too – the half-gold gets +2 to Strength, -2 to Wisdom, and +1 to Charisma, half-silvers get +1 to Strength, +1 to Constitution, and -1 to Intelligence, and half-bronzes get +1 across the board to Strength, Dexterity, and Wisdom. (There are no other kinds of half-dragons, since in AD&D golds, silvers, and bronzes were the only ones capable to “true” shapeshifting without relying on a polymorph self spell.) While half-dragons have level limits like most demihumans, they do seem pretty powerful compared to typical PC races. As far as power gaming goes, I could see half-dragons being a valid talking point, since they’re also the one part of the setting that is recommended for use in normal AD&D games.

Next up: Player Character Races.
 

BPIJonathan

I'll be superamalgamated!
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#10
I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that my one published article in Dragon Magazine was “The Western Wyrms,” which gave character creation rules for dragons listed in the Monstrous Manual but not included in this boxed set. I’m sure it got very little use at gaming tables, but it made me quite happy at the time that I had written something that added to one of my favorite campaign settings.
In what issue did this appear?
 
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