Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals

Name: Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- The Age of Mortals
Type: Accessory
Publisher: Sovereign Press
System: Dungeons and Dragons any edition
Setting: Dragonlance
Pages: N/A
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Tasslehoff's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Cover

There are some things in a collection that are considered prized possessions, items that mean more to you than they would to others because of their rarity, because of their link to a cherished memory or because of who gave them to you. Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals is one such item for me and it’s for all 3 reasons and more.

Tasslehoff’s Map Pouch- Age of Mortals was released as part of the D&D 3rd ed range of Dragonlance products that Sovereign Press produced. At that time Sovereign Press, owned by Margaret Weis, had licensed Dragonance from Wizards of the Coast and was producing a line of books that covered various periods from the classic ‘War of the Lance’ line all the way into the ‘Age of Mortals’ and ‘War of Souls’. Tas’s Map Pouch was released as part of a series of map based accessories and was the first product in that line.

All the maps were drawn by Sean Macdonald and the cover art for the set was created by Larry Elmore and Ken Whitman. The cover is particularly nice, being a really good up close illustration of the irrepressible Kender behind a table of maps, that may or may not be his but are definitely about to make their way into his possession.

In the set you get 12 maps. Eleven of these are A4 sixed small maps and then there is a single poster sized map. The maps included are-

  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals- this is the poster sized map.
  • Solace
  • The Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth
  • Citadel of Light
  • City of Teyr
  • City of Solanthus
  • City of Sanction
  • Nalis Aren- The Lake of Death
  • Storm’s Keep
  • Darkling Hall
  • Ansalon in the Age of Mortals as drawn by Tas
  • The Desolation

Tas's Map Pouch- Age of Mortals, Poster Map

I’ll start with the poster map as it’s one of my most treasured possessions. As expected the map covers Ansalon in the Age of Mortals, which means such things as The Desolation and the Great Swamp are depicted since huge swaths of the continent were reshaped by the Great Dragons during this era. Also, because of the era, there are some notable changes to the map from the more well-known earlier periods and the most prominent is the absence of the maelstrom in the Blood Sea of Istar.

While it’s not my favourite era it is a truly stunning map, accurately showing the scale of the continent (which is much smaller than you’d think at around 1300 miles wide and 870 miles long) and defining the individual regions. While I know where places are, seeing them in context helps bring the setting to life in a whole different way and being able to actually point to places during games really helps my players understand where they are and what is close by. I like the fact that the map also references other continents like Taladas and Ithun’carthia and shows their locations in relation to Ansalon as we as showing where notable places like the Isle of Gargeth would be.

The map has hundreds of locations named on it, from major cities like Palanthas and Solace, to holy sites relevant to individual gods (who are no longer relevant in the Age of Mortals) and other places of interest such as the feared Dargaard Keep. I’m sure that some places have been missed, perhaps because they aren’t relevant to the setting in this era or because they were only ever mentioned in passing in a single novel or sourcebook but, to my mind, everything important seems to be on there, everything I’ve looked for anyway, and so it seems to pretty complete.

It’s not really relevant to the review but when it was in production you could buy directly from Sovereign Press and, if you did, you could request it be signed by Margaret Weis. It’s this signature that makes the map so valuable to me, and it reads ‘May Dragons fly Ever in your Dreams, Margaret Weis’.

Of the other maps nearly all are of recognisable locations to fans of the fluff but there is one exception and that’s Darkling Hall-

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Darkling Hall

Darkling Hall doesn’t exist in the fluff for the setting as far as I’m aware and was inserted as a location that GM’s could use to make their own stories around. I like this idea as one of the biggest criticisms of Dragonlance as a setting is that PC’s can never really live up to the legends of the character sin the main fluff and so adding an interesting and exciting new location helps drive a different approach.

Darkling Hall looks to be a temple to all of the dark gods, located somewhere near a place known as the City of Shadows (which I confess to also not knowing so I presume it’s also an invention for this map). It is 8 sided with an alcove for each of the gods surrounding a area, perhaps a reflecting pool, which shows the constellations of the evil gods high as they would be seen in the night sky. This central chamber is known as the Chamber of Trials and each god appears to have a trial associated with them, such as the Trial of Immortality for Chemosh or the Trial of Vengeance for Sargonnas.

The only explanation given relates to the Hall of Warning which looks to be the entrance and this takes the form of a written warning that advises that those of evil intent can pass a single challenge to ‘dwell among their kind’ while good hearted individuals must face all 8 challenges. There is a lot of possibilities that the DM can expand upon in using this room with each element providing more and more story opportunities.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Solace map

No collection of maps for Krynn would be complete without a map of Solace, the city famous for being the start of the Companion’s quest during the War of the Lance. Solace is about as iconic a place in the Dragonlance setting as it’s possible to have and it’s nice to see a full colour map of it. As it’s set during the Age of Mortals the map legend includes things like the Last Heroes Tomb, commemorating those who dies during the War against Chaos as well as the Academy of Sorcery founded by Palin.

The Inn of the Last Home is, of course features, as is the Trough, the rougher tavern at the opposite end of town that is generally frequented by mercenaries and other lowlifes. As expected the drawing is filled with trees, as befitting Solace, although a great many dwellings now cover the ground as well since the settlement has expanded over the years since the War of the Lance.

Tas's Map Pouch Age of Mortals- tower of Wayreth

Another nice inclusion is the Tower of High Sorcery in Wayreth. While the sourcebook Towers of High Sorcery contains significantly more information about the tower, it doesn’t include a map and for a place that may well be visited by just about any Wizard character in the game, having a map is a nice thing, even if you never actually need it to run the Test of High Sorcery.

This map is split, covering an aerial map of the compound and then a floor by floor breakdown of the two towers that make up the Tower itself. The only downside really is that having a map takes little bit of the mystery out of the location, a place that should inspire wonder and dread in equal measures, but you can’t have it both ways.

Of the other maps 3 cover cities, Teyr, Solanthus and Sanction and these are of great use when running the game as I find being able to properly help player orientate in a city helps it feel more real and so bring the setting alive in their minds. Of the 3 only Sanction is what I’d call a tier one city, having been the site of numerous important events, especially in the Age of Mortals and beyond. On a personal note though, I like having Solanthus as my own games invariably end up in middle Solamnia at some point and Solanthus makes a good stopping off place. Personally I would have preferred Palanthas but that may well have appeared in the later War of the Lance or Legends map collections.

Two of the maps cover citadels/fortresses, these being Goldmoon’s Citidel of Light and Storms Keep, headquarters of the Knights of Takhisis and Ariakan’s personal abode. Neither is a must have but as both are of great importance during the period, being the symbolic seats of power for the opposing sides of light and dark, they are a solid inclusion.

Tas's Map Pouch, Age of Mortals, Nalis Aren Map

One map is of a wilderness location, being Nalis Aren, the Lake of Death that was once the great Elven city of Qualinesti. These isn’t much to this one, just a short legend defining where notable features of the city, such as the Tower of the Sun, were and the body of the great green dragon Beryl. To be honest this didn’t need to be in the set, it’s an important feature of the period but the map doesn’t really show anything and fluff in the Age of Mortals book more than suffices to cover this.

The last two maps are area maps. One is Tas’s own map of Ansalon in the Age of Mortals (if the signature is to be believed) and serves to be a solid in game hand out of the world. The other is a similar map of the Desolation, the north eastern area of Ansalon that has been taken over by the great red dragon, Malys and turned into a veritable hellhole. Most notable here is the location of the kender city of Kendermore, destroyed by Malys due to her hatred of that race. This map is apparently the property of the kender Kronn Thistleknot, presumably the descendant of the kender hero Kronin Thistleknot.

On the whole this is a nice collection. At the time of release it wasn’t prohibitively expensive and so it made for a nice addition to the collection. It had neither crunch nor fluff and no source material is included to support anything, something that isn’t really a problem but it would have been nice to perhaps have details of where supporting fluff could be found in within the Dragonlance range.

I’m happy with it, but I know I have rose tinted glasses for the setting and especially because of the signed poster-map. There are certainly weak maps in the set, like Nalis Aren, but those that are good are really good and nice to have. I wouldn’t pay a lot for the set and that makes it hard to find now in the UK if Amazon and Ebay are anything to go by, but if you do see a good quality copy out there for something resembling retail price it’s certainly a worthy addition to your collection.

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets- A Shadowrun Sourcebook Review

Name: Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets
Type: Sourcebook
Publisher: Fasa Corporation
System: Shadowrun 2nd edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Pages: 112
Cover: Softcover
Price: Out of print
Rating: 5.0 Stars (5.0 / 5)

 

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Front Cover

 

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Will is a sourcebook for Shadowrun 2nd edition published in 1996 by FASA Corporation and written by Steve Kenson. The book covers the fallout of the 2057 UCAS Presidential Campaign which was won by the Great Western Dragon Dunkelzahn and was then apparently assassinated on the night of his inauguration in front of the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC.

While what actually happened is covered in the Dragonheart Trilogy of novels by Jak Koke this book takes a more immediate look at what happened and who might be responsible as well as dealing with what this means in game, setting up plotlines that would run for a great many years.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, Back cover

So, like all Shadowrun sourcebooks from 1st-3rd edition Dunkelzahn’s Secrets has a full colour front and back cover and the rest in in black and white. The cover is a close-up of Big D’s head, breathing noxious fumes and the back is just a copy of the same image with the generic blurb superimposed over it. Inside it follows the standard style of this period of book, with a Shadowland into promoting recent and upcoming books including Threats, Calfree and Target UCAS before taking a slightly different approach and giving an extended introduction that explains the timeline of events leading up to Dunkelzahn’s Assassination and how to use the book.

The book itself is split into 7 broad sections-

  • · The Dragon’s Last Dance
  • · The Last Testament and Will of Dunkelzahn
  • · Fallout
  • · The Players
  • · The Sleeping Dragon
  • · Who Watched the Watchers
  • · In The Cards

 

Much like later books like Renraku Arcology Shutdown, much of Dunkelzahn’s Secrets if in game fluff and written as stories and experiences from people in the setting and how they have been effected and involved in the events surrounding Dunkelzahn’s death and his will.

The Dragon’s Last Dance is written as an in game news account of the assassination, starting prior to is and concluding with the known ‘facts’. The style is designed to describe a video reel, with lots of fast cuts between shots and reactions from those who witnessed what amounts to a contained nuclear explosion in the heart of the UCAS capitol. It’s a fun chapter, one that gives a different view of the events that nicely contracts the normally cynical view of runners.

The Last Testament and Will are actually two separate sections that broadly make one in game document. The Last Testament itself is a single page written by Dunkelzahn to discuss his death, the likely media frenzy and to cover his feelings about the state of the world in 2057. Then there are a couple of pages of Shadowland discussion between The Lady of the Court and Wordsmyth about their feelings on the Last Testament and it’s made very clear that they know him very well. Long time Shadowrun readers will know these two and their involvement in the wider metaplot of the time.

The Will consists of 200 items willed to various people around the world, some meta-plot characters such as the Great Dragons Lung and Hestaby or Richard Villiers of Fuchi (at this point). Others are just random and serve as plot hooks, either for the GMs or the wider metaplot such as finding what lies behind door 429 at the Berlin Saeder-Krupp offices or the 50,000 nuyen/year promised to Lawrence Edward Grafton as long as he stays chaste. The whole thing is a fascinating read, I feels like you are learning secret nuggets of information and it makes you massively curious as to what all the cryptic references mean.

From the Will it’s hard to pick a favourite but I think mine is “To Art Dankwalther, I leave the sum of 34,586,224,739.58 UCAS dollars. According to my calculations and accounting for conversion from the original currency, inflation, and 1 percent interest per annum, this settles my debt to your ancestor for the gold piece he kindly lent me for the last meal we shared.” It’s that or the one that offers a wish to any person presenting a ticket stub to a concert in Nashville that served as Maria Mecurial’s one and only foray into country music. The Will is available free on the Catalyst Website here and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t.

Fallout covers a number of topics that were directly affected by the death of the dragon. Initially there is the discussion of the possible culprits, with names like Vice President Kyle Haffner and Lofwyr being thrown around along with political opponents and terrorist organisations but no tangible proof is offered. Then the chapter covers the various beneficiaries of the Will, the Corporations or Corporate affiliated individuals (such as Fuchi’s Miles Lanier acquiring a seat on Renraku’s board) and how the corporate world will be shook up and how this will likely impact the runner community.

The Draco Foundation and Nadja Davier both get mentions in the Fallout section since the Will creates a new international power in the foundation and elevates Nadja (Dunkelzahn’s personal assistant) to a true international power player as the head of the Draco Foundation and the person directly responsible for administering the Will and it’s estimated 100 trillion nuyen’s worth of assets.

After Fallout is The Players, which covers all the major players in the setting, following the benefits handed out by the will. It’s not just the AAA’s that get a mention here, private individuals, investment companies and smaller corps all get a mention as Captain Chaos tries to provide an update as to who and what has gained and lost power. Given how close to the event the supposition is, a whole lot of it ends up flat out wrong but there are good number of interesting nuggets of information that a GM can use to build plots, especially if they are running in 2057.

I like the fact that The Players covers lessor known/less well covered holdings, things like Brackhaven Investments, Humanis Policlub, Proteus and even the UCAS government are covered. If there is one thing lacking in the Shadowrun fluff it’s information around governments and the established AA corps like Proteus.

The Sleeping Dragon takes a look at a couple of the larger items willed by Dunkelzahn and provides theories as to why they have been gifted to particular people and individuals. Specifically it looks at the items willed to Wuxing and Lung, the Great Eastern Dragon who was given Coins of Luck and what this could mean for the world going forward.

Who Watches the Watchers covers stories from Runners who previously worked for Dunkelzahns, knowingly and unknowingly and looks at how running the shadows will change in the wake of his demise. It gives insight into a side of Big D that wasn’t covered before, the part that shows that there was a lot more too him than the benevolent wyrm who hosted a TV show and wanted to be president and it provides evidence that Dunkelzahn may have been manipulating mortal affairs in ways people just hadn’t considered.

Finally In the Cards is a short 10 page story by Talon, the mage associated with Assets Inc, Dunkelzahn’s own private runner crew, albeit Talon joined after the dragon died. It’s a nice little story that covers one of the items in the will, an antique Tarot deck that was gifted to Dr Miles Swinburne, the father of modern magic and it serves to show how much impact just one of the items on the will can have on.

So by now it’s probably pretty obvious that I really like this book. For me Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn’s Secrets is a heady hit of nostalgia since it came out right when I first got into Shadowrun and was exploring the metaplot. On top of that I’m one of the few people who really likes the metaplot that involves the Immortal elves and the links to Earthdawn and this book has so many nods in that direction that it really makes me happy.

Portfolio of a Dragon: Dunkelzahn's Secrets, art

The writing is of fairly high quality as Shadowrun books go, since it’s FASA and the FASA era books tended to be better edited and formatted than the Wizkids or Catalyst stuff. The art is average for Shadowrun, which it pretty weak in general aside from a few specific covers (especially Elmore’s epic 1st ed cover). I’d like to be able to point to a standout piece of art but there isn’t anything with the image above being probably the best in the book.

The effect of this one event on the fluff cannot be understated enough, with the ripples being felt in numerous novels (including the Dragonheart Trilogy, Worlds Without End and Tails you Lose), campaigns including the Renraku Arcology Shutdown and Survival of the Fittest and beyond .

If you are a Shadowrun collector then this book is an absolute must have, it’s a nexus point for the fluff, with novels, adventures and sourcebooks all culminating here and then starting fresh with the fallout from the apparent assassination of a creature that was universally loved, a friend to runners and corporations, an associate of both Tir’s and the Immortal Elves in general, the leader of the Great Dragons and the UCAS President, Dunkelzahn.