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

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 know, because I remember when the review of that game appeared in the pages of "Micromania", a veteran magazine about videogames. (Oh my God, I have forgotten it was more thirty years ago!). And this still is being published after more three decades.

I guess the gameplay can be found in youtube.

I would bet more for an animated adaptation. I liked that retro 80's look of the movie, but the movie was too violent to be showed to the youngest members of the family. I suppose today to version could be showed, one +7y and other +13y.
 

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GreyLord

Legend
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.

If it is done to APPEAL TO ALL audiences and written WELL I wouldn't mind an animated version.

The problem with Vox Machina is it's only focused on those adults who hated children's cartoons and feel they are too adult to watch anything that a child could watch...thus...they need to have a cartoon focused only in such a way that someone over 18 should be watching it.

I've never really felt that was my cup of tea, but apparently there are a LOT of people that like those types of cartoons.

The problem with the first Dragonlance movie/cartoon was that it wasn't written as excellently as it could be and it wasn't made as well as it could be.

Vox Machina I hear has great writing and great production values. Combine that with a Dragonlance film made for family audiences and I could see it doing decently (though perhaps not great).

Avatar is basically and animated movie and it was one of the biggest movies of all time. I'm unsure of how well Avatar 2 will do but it has made around half a billion at this point and is also an animated movie (basically, with some humans tossed in as live action).

I don't think animation disqualifies a movie from being great, but it has to have facets that allow it to do well.
 

That's the thing - the Dragonlance animated movie was just plain poorly and cheaply done. About the only thing they spent money on is getting Kiefer Sutherland and Lucy Lawless.

Live action or animated, movie or series, bringing Dragonlance to life would require a significant budget. The presence of dragons, inhuman antagonists (Draconians), lots of locations, a dwarf and a kender in the main cast, means that we're talking a big budget to bring it to life convincingly, assuming it would be done as live action. As for animated, as mentioned, we already know what it looks like when you cut corners.

The problem with the first Dragonlance movie/cartoon was that it wasn't written as excellently as it could be and it wasn't made as well as it could be.

Vox Machina I hear has great writing and great production values. Combine that with a Dragonlance film made for family audiences and I could see it doing decently (though perhaps not great).

Avatar is basically and animated movie and it was one of the biggest movies of all time. I'm unsure of how well Avatar 2 will do but it has made around half a billion at this point and is also an animated movie (basically, with some humans tossed in as live action).

I don't think animation disqualifies a movie from being great, but it has to have facets that allow it to do well.
 

evildmguy

Explorer
Yeah that was it. Never really understood the rules for it.
No one did. :ROFLMAO:

TSR kept trying to compete with trends. I'm sure that's typical for companies. It's too bad they didn't stay in their lane because while remembered well, they produced a lot of things that aren't around today. In the case of SAGA system, it was a card based system. I think the idea was to give more control to the players over their characters but fell flat, imo. I think they also used it for a Marvel game and I don't remember which came first and then which got to use the SAGA rules.

I enjoyed reading Dragonlance up to a point. The main books and some of the other books were good but for me a lot of the novels fell flat. I tried to run a game set in DL but never managed to capture the feel of it for myself much less my players but that's on me. I do agree that the War of the Lance seems to be the reason for the setting, again for me, the extra parts weren't as interesting. Yes, the boxed set on the other continent might as well have been on something else.

I liked the Gold Box games back in the day as well. Watching the moon phases to know when to attack or not did make it interesting.

Thanks for the look back and discussion!
 

Corone

Adventurer
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!
When I ran it (although we've not quite finished yet) I used new characters and used the original Heroes of the Lance as NPCs. They carried on as if they'd never gone on the adventure. So they met Riverwind and Goldmoon helping refugees and Caramon and Raistlin were mercenries helpnig at the battle of the High Clerist tower etc. But I never felt the adventures insisted I kill of either specific NPCs or any of my PCs.

The party split is a weird one, but I didn't do that either. I sent the PCs to Icewall Castle as directed. Then when they got back to civilization they were asked to investigate why there had been no word for Silvanesti and set off on that path.
 

On party splitting: In FASA Star Trek RPG they suggest that each player make a primary and secondary character. One character goes on the Away Team, and the other remains on the ship. Thus, the PCs are present irrespective of if the action occurs on the planet, on the ship, or both.
 

Ghal Maraz

Adventurer
SAGA was an innovative system, quite ahead of its time. The "Dragonlance: Fifth Age" version was still a bit too rough, but it got really, really good with the "Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game".
It was probably too much different from what people were expecting from rpgs in those times, but SAGA anticipated the narrative trends of the successive decades. It also had the problems of needing those cards so much (and there weren't replacements outside of buying the respective core sets) and, in the case of DL, of having a mostly changed setting.
 


Stormonu

Legend
SAGA was an innovative system, quite ahead of its time. The "Dragonlance: Fifth Age" version was still a bit too rough, but it got really, really good with the "Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game".
It was probably too much different from what people were expecting from rpgs in those times, but SAGA anticipated the narrative trends of the successive decades. It also had the problems of needing those cards so much (and there weren't replacements outside of buying the respective core sets) and, in the case of DL, of having a mostly changed setting.
SAGA is probably going to be discussed in the next article, but yeah - I got it, did my best to comprehend it ... and no one wanted to play it. Didn't help that the campaign world had been turned upside down along with the new rules.
 

wellis

Explorer
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).
They also did some sort of flight sim dogfighting dragon game set during the War of the Lance called Dragonlance: Dragonstrike
 

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