A Dragonlance Retrospective: Part 1

The Dragonlance setting has a long history, and as it’s the time of year for retrospection it seemed a good time to take a look at it.

Dragonlance_Characters_around_a_campfire_by_Larry_Elmore.jpg

By Larry Elmore. Uploaded to Wikipedia by User: Peregrine Fisher

With the release of Shadow of the Dragon Queen, the popular Dragonlance setting gets a new 5e makeover. It is a setting that has endured since the earliest days of D&D, perhaps by offering all the most popular elements of the game in one gorgeously cohesive setting. Dragons, check, Knightly orders, check, Orders of magicians with specialist magical powers, check, continent spanning wars and epic campaigns, double check.

Modular Beginnings

Dragonlance first appeared in 1984 as a string of no less than 14 adventure modules. They were an amazing gamble by (as then) TSR who certainly appeared to bet everything on the popularity of this new setting. While we’d had serial modules before with Against the Giants or the Slavers series there had never been anything on this scale before. In addition to planning almost all their main releases around Dragonlance they also produced calendars, art books, and a series of novels that mirrored the story of the module campaign. For a time all of TSR’s attention became Dragonlance and it must have been an amazing time to be in the middle of it.

Of all of the support material, the novels deserve a special mention (not only because Margaret Weis is lovely!). Their popularity, as they hit the best seller lists, opened up the whole realm of gaming fiction. It certainly spurred TSR to move heavily into novels, with more Dragonlance and later Forgotten Realms novels. Plenty of other companies (notably Catalyst with Shadowrun and Games Workshop) saw the merits of novels linked to their worlds and have developed a vast library since then. But Dragonlance was the first to break the mainstream and created what might almost be considered a new genre.

But for all these tie ins and bonus features, the modules themselves were also a break from what was expected. For a start, the length of the campaign was epic, taking characters from 1st to 15th level. Also, not every module was an adventure. The 5th module (Dragons of Mystery) was actually a sourcebook. It was timed a little oddly as you’d already played 4 modules by the time it came out. But it gave the backstory of the pregenerated characters in great detail as well as detailing the world of Krynn and its gods. It was essential reading, and if you weren’t playing the official characters, it tempted you to do so.

The 11th module (Dragons of Glory) was also very different as it provided a self contained wargame instead of an adventure. By this point in the campaign the War of the Lance is in full swing and your characters could get involved in the major battles with this module. It was a brave but flawed attempt, and caused a little controversy, but nothing to diminish the excitement of seeing what the final 4 modules would bring.

The most interesting part of the setting was perhaps the most overlooked, and that was the attention to detail. The modules themselves gave out snippets that usually would never even be considered in any other module. For instance, the song Goldmoon sings at the start of the first adventure is detailed in full, with the music score in case the player in question played an instrument themselves. Whole supplements such as ‘Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home’ offered no gaming detail, rules or adventures, but did offer menus, recipes, songs and the like from Krynn. While they had their detractors at the time, I would offer it is this attention to the everyday details of the setting outside the adventures that really made it come alive for its players.

The original modules themselves are still available in pdf form and on second hand sites. Two collections of them were made. The Dragonlance Classic compilations updated the modules for 2e, with 4 modules in each of the three volumes (omitting the ‘odd ones’ DL5 and DL11). There were also two boxed reprints of all the modules in an unplayable and barely readable tiny format (4x3 inches) which came out in 2000 as a celebration of Dragonlance.

After the Campaign

With the War of the Lance over, TSR moved to other things, but never quite forgot Dragonlance. Two more modules came out, each with a collection of short adventures set afterwards. A hardcover book ‘Dragonlance Adventures’ was also released as a full setting sourcebook. While it did the job it was more sourcebook than rulebook. These new adventures were good but often felt like playing in Middle Earth after the War of the Ring. Everything felt peaceful and settled, the work of heroes was done, so what do they do now? The War of the Lance was epic, and it was going to be hard to match that.

But then along came Second Edition, and with it a string of updated material for all your old favourites. Forgotten Realms quickly became the default setting for D&D but Dragonlance was not forgotten. Several sourcebook/adventure modules appeared, as well as two trilogy module sets. Again, they were good, but it felt as if Dragonlance was waiting for a new epic battle. It was hard to beat the feeling of the original modules, taking characters right from their beginning to very high level, watching each of them become heroes and save the world.

Two large boxed sets tried to recapture the old magic, but also caused controversy themselves. “Time of the Dragon” detailed the continent of Taladas on the other side of Krynn to Ansalon. It was a great setting but may as well have been a completely different one given its disconnection from Ansalon. “Tales of the Lance” (for 2e) was both a crowd pleaser and a cause of consternation as it collated much of the material and had to make a few changes to put everything together. These either pleased or annoyed the fans in equal measure.

In the next column we’ll pick up the continuing saga in the lates 90s.
 
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Steel_Wind

Legend
Sure. the Dragon bit was clearly a preview of the modules. They even have a section calling that out. I was just being pedantic, as the first actual appearance was Dragon, not the modules.
Might have even been before that. I recall Roger Moore had a short story featuring Tasslehoff which was supposed to have occurred before Chronicles and the events in the modules; the story also appeared in Dragon. I don't remember when it came out though. Around that time?

I remember it as I rarely read the fiction Dragon did publish -- but I did read that one and recall that I rather liked it at the time.
 

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The only thing I had of Dragon Lance (with the exception of the new book for 5e) was a small box set that used a different game system. I never played it, just looked through it several times. I later traded it for the PF core rule book. I regret trading it, I would like to add it to my bookshelf.
 

I have got this book since I bought near year 1994. It is a little threasure in my bedroom, and a window toward the past, in the age when D&D was almost unknown. I see the pictures of the heroes and it is like watching old friends. When I was at university I could to go to the public library to read lots of novels of Dragonlance.

49aced683e0147e9b69ba79719ed994a.jpg


For a time the companions of the lance were the most famous D&D characters, and the novels the most sold fantasy sage after the Lord of the Rings.

I suspect Hasbro would like a videogame based in this franchise. Wouldn't you do the same?
 


Steel_Wind

Legend
I have got this book since I bought near year 1994. It is a little threasure in my bedroom, and a window toward the past, in the age when D&D was almost unknown. I see the pictures of the heroes and it is like watching old friends. When I was at university I could to go to the public library to read lots of novels of Dragonlance.

49aced683e0147e9b69ba79719ed994a.jpg


For a time the companions of the lance were the most famous D&D characters, and the novels the most sold fantasy sage after the Lord of the Rings.

I suspect Hasbro would like a videogame based in this franchise. Wouldn't you do the same?
They did Champions of Krynn -- SSI Gold Box. That computer game forms the basis of the adventure of the same name in the DragonLance Nexus adventure (Ch. 1 of which is on DMs Guild as an add-on to their DL source book).

DL Chronicles has always been the most obvious of series to aim at live action. A live-action streamer on Netflix or Prime would be great. It just needs a better screenplay -- and yes -- some grime and grit dumped in there, too. It's too clean, too YA for today's audience (I'm going to insist on that being true, despite the minority holdouts here with a differing view).
 


I lived it and I loved it however it has some serious warts
1-major spoilers certain characters die. It’s hard to say river wind survives (assuming you have a big group of people playing)
2 modules split the party. Literally the modules follow the books so there are modules where you have to have a new character
 

Steel_Wind

Legend
I lived it and I loved it however it has some serious warts
1-major spoilers certain characters die. It’s hard to say river wind survives (assuming you have a big group of people playing)
2 modules split the party. Literally the modules follow the books so there are modules where you have to have a new character
Re: Riverwind: The rules and capability of the Blue Crystal Staff have been revised - it's easy to deal with Death on Black Wings at the Well now;

Re Party split: This is also easy to deal with. The player has another PC in the "other party". When you get to DL6, run one session in that, then the next in DL10, and alternate back and forth between them, so the campaign proceeds in parallel.
This has been possible since 1986 when the modules were all finally published.

If these are your only issues with the DL Classic campaign? You got nothing to worry about!
 

They did Champions of Krynn -- SSI Gold Box. That computer game forms the basis of the adventure of the same name in the DragonLance Nexus adventure (Ch. 1 of which is on DMs Guild as an add-on to their DL source book).

DL Chronicles has always been the most obvious of series to aim at live action. A live-action streamer on Netflix or Prime would be great. It just needs a better screenplay -- and yes -- some grime and grit dumped in there, too. It's too clean, too YA for today's audience (I'm going to insist on that being true, despite the minority holdouts here with a differing view).
Not just a live-action, but I suspect that given how well Vox Machina has seemed to be received on Amazon, a good animated version could do well. Way better than the one that came out - I'd never buy Keifer Sutherland as Raistlin, for example
 

Steel_Wind

Legend
Not just a live-action, but I suspect that given how well Vox Machina has seemed to be received on Amazon, a good animated version could do well. Way better than the one that came out - I'd never buy Keifer Sutherland as Raistlin, for example
No. We have been down the animated road already. No thanks. Live action or forget it.

Animated also has a reduced market appeal. I tried Vox Machina, but not my cuppa. Anime/Animated may have its adherents in geek culture, but if you are trying to break into a mass market with mass appeal - that means live action.
 

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