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Reviews of 'Citadel of Light'

Citadel of Light

by Steve Miller
Fifth Age, Volume 11


Reviews of 'Citadel of Light'

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Reviewer: Matthew L. Martin

Rating: Stars

Warning: This review contains numerous spoilers for the Citadel of Light Dramatic Supplement. Read at your own risk.

Citadel of Light is a groundbreaking DL product for three reasons. First of all, Book One, "The Light-Bearers", is the first new DL book that can be given to players with little or no hesitation. The only perceivable problem is in the character writeups, but nearly everything in there is common knowledge. The first half, in fact, could be placed into a campaign as a motivation for the heroes to investigate the Citadel.

That brings us to the second reason it's so unique: it's the first DL game product with a substantial portion of the text written in-character. The technique works. It gives us a lot of information about the Citadel, and feels better than just dry information given from an omniscient third-person view. It also tells us a lot about Iryl Songbrook; I'd never heard of Iryl before this outside of a few postings, but in reading this, I know more about her than I do about some Heroes of the Lance.

Third, this is the first completely setting-focused DL product in a long time. Other products have included lots of setting info--the Fifth Age boxed set, Heroes of Defiance, The Last Tower, and Wings of Fury, but they've also mixed in a lot of rules or general information as well. Citadel of Light, in contrast, is focused almost entirely on the Citadel, even in its roles and rules.

That said, how does the supplement do with this new approach and style? Moving on to a piece-by-piece breakdown:

The Box:

All right, it's official: I like the new box format. It's sturdier, nicer-looking, and adds two more pages to the content. The cover painting, as Steve has pointed out, is quite nice; although I think Mirror looks a little too humanoid, it's a beautiful look at the Citadel of Light and its most important residents.

And the Fifth Age logo is missing. The division is completely over; we are One.

Book One: "The Light-Bearers"

Book One: "The Light-Bearers" is split into two halves. The first is the history of the Citadel of Light, the second, a list of characters and roles.

Chapter One deals with the history of Schallsea. Four different cultures--the port town, the Wemitowuc, the Que-Nal, and the Citadel mystics. The Wemitowuc provide an interesting viewpoint on Krynnish history; where else can you find a group that hates silver dragons, keeps talk to a minimum, and regards the Cataclysm as their salvation? The mystery of how they gained their spell powers is intriguing, and I hope to see it followed up in some form. And I'm sure others will appreciate Iryl's speculations about the gods. I also like the War Memorial and the Gardens of the Dead. In my humble opinion, a land as war-torn and blood-soaked as Ansalon needs some more haunted, cursed, or just plain weird spots. The Que-Nal are interesting, but not quite as much as the Wemitowuc. They do, though, provide some diversity among the Abanasinian barbarian clans, as well as a foil for the Citadel that can be dealt with without seriously disrupting Ansalon.

Then, there's the Citadel of Light itself. This is the first time we've really gotten a look at the Citadel of Light's philosophy, and it makes sense. A site dedicated to spreading the magic of 'life, light, and love' among all the people of Krynn would definitely support a unification of Ansalon for the forces of Good. I also like the new version of the Silver Stair. It fits perfectly with the Citadel's mission, and if mysticism was part of the High God's plan, the Stair serves as the perfect key to unlocking this new power.

That brings us to Chapter Two, the history of the Citadel. A lot of the earlier part of this is simply an expansion of what we learned in the Fifth Age boxed set. We find out details about what the Sage taught Goldmoon, how she felt after Riverwind's death, how she healed Jasper, and why the Citadel was constructed at Schallsea. This was probably the best way to handle this; I think a lot of us would be irritated with major revelations. The chapter really hits high gear once the search for the Citadel begins. We learn a lot about Iryl in this section, as well as several of the other key individuals behind the Citadel. Shen Korras's contributions are mentioned, as well as those of the Qualinesti, and the start of the Citadel's missionary efforts. Mirror's place in Citadel life is also described. Given the information given in his biography--his view that mortals need to make their way in the world without dragons--it's perfect that he'd take a role in guarding the Citadel. It makes one wonder if Sunrise will fill a similar role at the Academy of Sorcery, the Citadel's counterpart. Citadel organization is pretty functional--no bells and whistles--but again appropriate, and it emphasizes the role of individual determination and self-knowledge. The rules for departing the Citadel are likewise fitting, and I can see a campaign arising out of it: what happens if someone banished from the Citadel gets corrupted by a Great Dragon or the Dark Knights? The description of the Citadel is useful, with enough details to give one a feel for it but not overly constraint a Narrator.

Chapter Three, in my humble opinion, is one of the best of the boxed set. Here, we see the effect the Citadel is having on Ansalon. The allies make a lot of sense, although I'm not sure why the Solamnic Knights, strong allies of the power of the heart, get little space. Perhaps Steve felt they were already sufficient detailed in Heroes of Steel and Heroes of Hope? In addition to the list of allies, we get a look at the growing tensions in the Blood Sea, and a short but new perspective on the Legion of Steel, where Iryl points out "many of our mystics believe that the Legion's failure to acknowledge that Good and Evil are governed by the spirit will lead to its infiltration and eventual corruption by the Knights of Takhisis". In one line, Steve manages to strongly suggest a philosophical difference between the Legion and the Solamnics, something that I've found a bit lacking so far. I'd like to see more on this line of thought in the future.

The bits on the Citadel's enemies are even more interesting. The Great Dragons section is pretty standard, but well-handled and gives us a metallic's perspective on the Great Dragons. It's the bit about the Knights of Takhisis that I found most interesting, though. This is what DL conflicts should be. The Good vs. Evil conflict is a fundamental part of the line, but this section expands on that and explains why the Citadel and the Knights hate each other so much. What we have here are two diametrically opposed worldviews, the Citadel's commitment to unity, truth, mercy, and self-reliance, and the Dark Knight's vision of tyranny and harsh order, promoted by lies, and committed to hanging on to a treacherous and vanished goddess. This is good stuff, friends. The Que-Nal are also intriguing, providing what is in many ways a repeat of the Kingpriest situation in miniature.

Chapter Four's roles are useful, but narrowly focused. They're very good for a Citadel campaign, or if you want a member of the Citadel as part of the party; the Citadel Advisor and Missionary are most appropriate for this role. The Medium and Woodshaper are also quite intriguing, the former useful for all sorts of campaigns (including Ravenloft SAGA games), and the latter providing a good look at elven culture.

Chapter Five gives character writeups on the persons of the Citadel. Most of them have already been mentioned earlier in the book, but this chapter serves to flesh them out and provide stats. Mina, Camilla, and Jemtal are all interesting, Iryl, Mirror, and Shen Korras really shine in their writeups, providing fodder for long and intriguing stories, and Shadowstalker's an intriguing villian, pitiful, frightening, and dangerous.

Book Two: "A Light in the Darkness"

Book Two: "A Light in the Darkness" gives us what is essentially a mini-campaign revolving around Citadel training. The campaign's good, although the Narrator will need to find some way to fit Mercy in if no one wants to play her, since she really drives Act Three. The campaign's really focused around the pre-generated characters, but the examples provide springboards for fitting others in. In addition, this adventure uses pregenerated characters right, IMHO, drawing on their personalities and backgrounds to produce subplots and character arcs. The adventure's very nicely put together, too, although since I don't run many adventures, this comment should be taken with a grain of salt. I like the hedge maze, the training exercises (and Steve gets bonus points for referring to my favorite movie in there :-), the setup for future products (I smell a War of Souls thread . . . ), the spirit of the Morgion cultist, and the fact that the heroes can make a difference without requiring serious revision of the campaign world. The one thing that worried me was the dragon, which seemed almost gratuitous; however, knowing Steve, it ties into something down the road.

However, unlike Book One, I can't give the adventure an unqualified recommendation. It looks to require a lot of mature and sophisticated roleplaying, especially in the Silver Stair sections. If you're new at gaming, or if you don't have introspectively inclined gamers, I'd recommend running the Dragons of a New Age arc first before moving on to this one.

The Map:

Being far from cartographophilic (let's see if you can make sense of that! I didn't even look at the map until writing this review. I have to say, I'm impressed. The maps are nicely done and useful, providing necessary detail with a minimum of mess. However, what really caught my eye are the beautiful borders and border pictures, especially on the Schallsea side.

Art:

Speaking of art, in both books, the interior art is very nice. Some of the pieces seem a bit primitive (the collage on p. 32, Book Two), but most of the art is good, and one piece, the portrait of the heroes on p. 7 of Book Two, really caught my eye (although I don't think they got Blister quite right). This side of the DL game line is definitely improving.

Notes:

On the whole, the one word that really seems to sum up this box is 'appropriate'. Steve's got a clear vision of Krynn and of the Citadel of Light in particular, and it comes through clearly. A few short notes, and I wind this up:

  • Those of you complaining about the lack of metallic dragon involvement may want to note Mirror's words: "Effective strategies take time to plan. . . . Wait and see" (Book One, p. 46).
  • Exactly what did happen with Goldmoon and necromancy, anyway?
  • I still stand by my position that Shen Korras is Khellendros. If anyone wants to hear my reasons, I'm happy to post or e-mail them.

Conclusion:

Citadel of Light is highly recommended to anyone with a passing interest in the Citadel, mysticism, or related elements. The strong sense of "Krynnishness" and flavor, the useful but not overwhelming detail, and the clear vision of the Citadel combine to make it one of the best Fifth Age supplements, on the same level as Heroes of Defiance and Heroes of Sorcery, and in some ways even surpassing them.


Reviewer: Morten Brattbakk

Rating: Stars

This review will be pretty exhaustive, so will talk about everything from the color of the box to the content of the books. You have been warned. I like the color of the box, it has the art design like any other of the Fifth Age boxes, except that it is blue, instead of brown like the Fifth Age Dramatic Adventure boxed set and the Heroes of... series. The blue color mixes great with the gold borders, the only argument against it is that the blue color does not make the book look so much like an old leather tome, like the brown boxes did. I am not very keen on the cover painting. Opening the flap, there is some text giving rules for how the silver stair at the Citadel can be used as a magical reservoir, boosting magic abilities off mystics close to it, as well as a colorful map of Schallsea Island and edges of surrounding lands; Abanasinia, Southlund, Lemish, Throt and New Swamp.

Now on to the books. There have always been this kender in me who love to travel and to explore, and islands are especially interesting. What is hidden on this limited area of land? As such, Scahllsea has always intrigued me, and I have been sorry for the lack of information on it for a long time. But no more, since Citadel of Light describes Schallsea Island relatively thouroughly. Schallsea has been mentioned before; the adventure DLE2 was set there, and described a small village and surroundings, and the people living there. CoL bases itself on this foundation, not only re-introducing the village of Anghat and fleshing out the Wemituwok barbarians, but it also make one of the pre-generated PC characters in DLE2 a main character, namely Iryl Songbrook.

Iryl, a Silvanesti elf, is the narrator in Part One of Book One, The Lightbearers. While presenting source material through an in-world character is not completely new to Dragonlance (it happened in Dwarven Kingoms of Krynn), the approach here is quite ingenious. After a preface which includes a letter from Iryl to the historian receiving the material, and one from Goldmoon guaranteeing for the reliability of it, Iryl presents the information in three chapters: The first one gives an overview of the geography, locations, people (and their histories) and cultures of the island. The second one provides the history of Goldmoon and the Citadel, the organizational structure of the Citadel and describes the features and locations of it. The third one is perhaps the most interesting in the whole box, as the friends and enemies of the Citadel are described. There are especially two storylines hinted upon there which I hope will be handled in fiction, in novels. Those are the brewing civil war on Mithas, and the story of princess Mercidith of Ergoth, and the effect her journey to the citadel has on her and her country. (The Qué-Nal shamans are interesting too, but that conflict is pretty much resolved in the adventure in Book Two.) There is one thing missing in chapter three, though, and that is what kind of relationship the brass dragon lord Iyesta has with the Citadel.

Well, I still haven't answered why part one in Book One is quite ingenious. It is because not only do we get to know Schallsea, the Citadel and its friends and enemies, we also get to know a great deal about the narrator Iryl. We get a glimpse of her personality, her past adventure (the DLE series) and the fate of her friends. (The other pre-generated PCs from the DLE modules) However, the personal touch her narration puts on the text, does not detract from the information and believability of it. This is very clever, and the author kills two birds with one blow by having us learn about both the world and a character all at once.

There is one short-coming to the text, though, which I think also was apparent in Heroes of Defiance. It fails somewhat to evoke an image of what it looks like on several locations in Schallsea. While there is no doubt about the Citadel itself, other locations, like the Port of Schallsea, and a typical Wemitowuk and Qué-Nal village are barely described. The same is, to some extent, true about Schallsea as a whole. All we really learn about how Port of Schallsea looks on the two pages it's described, is that its waterfront is more hospitable than the seedy warehouses in most other ports on Ansalon, and that there is a tower overlooking the town. The two short paragraphs on page 22 of Book Two of Heroes of Steel actually does a much better job at invoking a mental image of the town than Citadel of Light does. Well, I think that more detailed and image-invoking descriptions are needed, as they are essential to any role-playing game, and also to role-playing supplements.

The history of Schallsea and the Citadel is very interesting and the author takes existing history and adds to it, he does not repeat or contradict it. (Two crimes Wings of Fury is, in my opinion, guilty of.) That is very clever, I think. There are also some intriguing mysteries I hope see are handled in future products, one of them is what experience Goldmoon had with necromancy.

Part Two of The Lightbearers is written in the usual omniscient voice. Chapter four has new roles, most of them are good but useful only if you play in a campaign centered on and around the Citadel. There are some of them, though, who might be useful for a campaign removed from the Citadel, such as the Citadel Missionary and the Citadel Renegade. There are some related roles as well, the very interesting Elven Woodshaper, equally interesting Mediums, and the Natural Talent. There are also roles for playing Qué-Nals and Wemitowuks. The roles are mostly good, a couple is extremely cool, but many are quite useless, since they require a campaign centered around the Citadel, and it seems difficult to me to manage to keep a long-running campaign on Schallsea and environs. Chapter five describes various characters in more detail, devoting one or two pages to each. Mina (orphan), Goldmoon, Camilla Woeledge (Knight of Solamnia), Jemtal Oermann (Knight of Takhsis), Iryl Songbrook, Shen Korras (mysterious half-elf), Scanion Ribtickler (extremely shy kender), Mirenhu (Wemitowuk wannabe), the Sage, Chief Skydancer of the Qué-Nal, Shadowwalker (powerhungry, anti-Citadel Qué-Nal shaman), and Mirror (silver dragon guarding the Citadel). These characters are interesting, and can spice up many an adventure. Quite a few can be a focus off it, too. The book ends with the usual roles quick reference appendix, and a list of all Dragonlance novels and anthologies published up till now.

Then, there is Book Two, Light in the Darkness. This is an adventure, with pre-generated characters. However, this adventure is suitable also for background material on how to handle a campaign around the Citadel, and gives some DM only rules for some of the roles and Citadel training introduced in Book One. There are rules for Spirit code advancement, Mediums and the nature of spirits and the afterlife of Krynn, and things about Medium, Elven Woodshaper and Wild Talent roles the players do not know about. There is some additional info on the Qué-Nal culture and beliefs (I like this), and comprehensive guide on how to go through tests and learn at and eventually join the Citadel. Quite good, except I am a bit skeptical of the hedge maze, which is one illusionary test after another in a rather strict, described pattern, which was the fault of much of The Last Tower – The Legacy of Raistlin. But it is nothing to criticize too much, and is nowhere near as bad as The Last Tower – The Legacy of Raistlin.

The pre-generated characters are good and interesting, the only two of the Heroes of the Heart (ugh, that name makes me cringe), are Rig and Blister. Linsha Majere is there, and so are Marda (from the Heroes of Defiance adventure) and her brother, as well as a Qué-Nal, son of the Citadel-friendly chief. The most interesting one is Mercidith, princess of Ergoth. She has the potential of becoming a great character, and I would just *love* some fiction about her, her adventures to and at the Citadel, and her return home and the effect that has on her and the court in Gwynned.

There are provided several hooks to get the players into the adventure, many of them also provides seeds for other adventures. I especially love the idea of the challenges waiting for the missionaries on their way to Throt to sign a treaty with the gobins there. That could make for a really interesting story.

What about the adventure itself? Of course, it does suffer from the strict adventure format and is quite linear, but it's not that bad; the Fifth Age Dramatic Adventure boxed set and Heroes of Sorcery adventures are much worse. There is one thing in particular which I find annoying with the adventure format, that the actions are provided in their own paragraph. It would be much easier to keep track of when (and which) an action is needed if it was included in the description at the place where the action is supposed to be made.

This adventure practically requires that you use the pre-generated heroes, especially Mercidith. The adventure is created for her. And since, at one point, the trials of the Citadel are different experiences and challenges for each and every individual, the challenge for each pre-gen is provided. If you know the pre-gens and their challenges, you could use that as guidelines for creating challenges for other, home-made characters.

What is quite unique about this adventure is that it focuses on the personality and fears of the PCs, and them overcoming their fears. It is therefore very challenging to role-play, and I think I would recommend this adventure for a group with very good role-players, but warn against using it "as is" for those not being able/willing to role-play quite complex characters.

Last, there is the map. On one side there is a close-up of the dome-complex that is the Citadel, the area around it, and the interior of a couple of the domes. There is also a couple of OK ink drawings by Diesel (who did the drawings on Heroes of Sorcery and Wings of Fury maps) of Goldmoon and Mirror the silver dragon. On the other side there is this beautiful map of Schallsea Islands, with towns, ruins and other points of interests marked on it. It has the same look as the Heroes of Sorcery, Heroes of Hope and the Wings of Fury maps. There are four pictures on this side, and they are absolutely beautiul. Heather Hudson, who did the art, should be seen on future maps as well, and even cover paintings. I loved it. It is my favorite map art so far in the Fifth Age products.

All in all, I liked Citadel of Light, but I think I would have preferred more Shallsea, and a little less Citadel. The Isle of Schallsea was covered, of course, but not very detailed. As such, the box is not very useful to Fouth Age gamers, like Heroes of Defiance was. There were several locations I would see covered. What is the story of Castle Vila, and what is its condition? Is anything lurking in the Mines of Ash? Any more detail about the Garden of the Dead (The one not covered in DLE2)? It is also very challenging to create a campaign around the Citadel, as it requires a lot of skillful role-playing, and an ability to create an interesting game in an idyllic environment. Even though there is the conflict and interesting adventure hints with the Citadel's relation to the world around it, much, perhaps a little bit too much, of Citadel of Light is centered around the organization of the Citadel itself. And with the adventure, the greatest threat to the Citadel on Schallsea, the shaman Shadowwalker, is removed. So, this is not the place where the greatest action is likely to occur, for good and bad. And note that I am not saying that the box is devoid of ideas for heating things up, far from it, it does use a lot of space describing rather peaceful environs and characters.

Lastly, let me applaud the fact that the attack on Goldmoon is referred to briefly in some places, and never is it explained in any detail. This is a wise move. There is one inconsistency here though, the attack on her is described as it happened in Heroes of Hope, and not in The Day of the Tempest. I know that Steve went with the Heroes of Hope version because that was what was available to him at the time, but considering that Citadel of Light went into press long after The Day of the Tempest, this should have been changed by editors.

Well, my final evaluation is that I recommend Citadel of Light, although not without reservations. If your group are skilled at role-playing, and doesn't mind a campaign largely based on the serenity of the Citadel, this is very good. If your group is more action-oriented, and don't care squat about personal development and working for and on and around the peaceful Citadel, this may not be your cup of tea, even though there are quite a few elements in here for you too.

Review made Wednesday July 29th, 1998 on the alt.fan.dragonlance newsgroup.


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