Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen & Warriors of Krynn Review

Dragonlance is back with a new adventure for 5E, called Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, and accompanied by the board game Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn, which can be played independently or in conjunction with the RPG.

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Welcome to Dragonlance​

For those unfamiliar with the setting, Dragonlance began during AD&D days with the module, Dragonlance: Dragons of Despair (March 1984) by Tracy Hickman, and the novel, Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (November 1984), by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Game designers Tracy and Laura Hickman, creators of Ravenloft, came up with the initial idea for Krynn, a world that survived a cataclysm, is dominated by dragons and abandoned by the True Gods, during the road trip to Wisconsin where Hickman was applying for a job at TSR.

In the original adventures, a group of companions come together, rediscover the True Gods, bringing true clerics back to Krynn, and fight in what becomes the War of the Lance to fend off the forces of evil dragon goddess Takhisis. Dragonlance became hugely popular and spawned more novels, comic books, video games, and adventures created for 2nd edition, 3.5, and the SAGA System (but not 4E).

A 5E version of Dragonlance has been a long-time coming, and it brings with it a board game to try out a different way of playing an RPG for those who own both. That means there's a lot to cover, so let's dive in.

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Getting Started​

First, let's deal with the stats. D:SotDQ takes players from 1st through 11th level, and is optimized for 4-6 players. It has 28 stat blocks but six of those are sidekicks, 11 are creature stat blocks, and the rest are for NPCs, named or for a general category of NPCs. The creature stats include lesser and greater death dragons. You can never have too many types of dragons in D&D!

The sidekicks can be used to fill out the group if you only have a couple of players. They could also be used by drop-in players or as a quick substitute if a PC is killed at an inopportune time. Four magic items are included as are five other items that range from gear like the Kender hoopak to gnome siege weapons like the boilerdrak.

More than 70 prior Dragonlance adventures, supplements, and source books (and are largely available on DMs Guild) so lead designer F. Wesley Schneider decided to open D:SotDQ with a chapter that gives newcomers an overview of Krynn, its people, gods, and a summary of its history. It's not meant to be exhaustive because the other sourcebooks still exist, which makes sense and fits with WotC's current publictation strategy, but may displease lore lovers. Either way, the first chapter provides more information on Krynn than the skimpy setting information in this summer's Spelljammer set so I'll count that as a win despite being a low bar to cross.

Readers are given an overview of how elves, dwarves, gnomes, etc. function in Krynn and a brief peek at their cultures. Gully dwarves are omitted. Purists may complain, but D:SotDQ doesn't suffer from the omission.

I've always liked Kender and was thrilled to find them in one of the early D&D Next playtest packets. The version of Kender presented here are good. Their Taunt ability still exists, but their Fearlessness ability has simply become Advantage on rolls in regard to the Fear condition. A Kender's immunity to the fear caused by dragons was a small edge for players that could be very helpful if used strategically. Downgrading it to rolling with Advantage doesn't really improve game balance in my opinion, especially since I didn't think it broke the game in the original version.

HOWEVER, designating the hoopak, the traditional weapon of Kenders, a martial weapon really annoys me. Since original Dragonlance companion Tasslehoff Burrfoot is a rogue, it means his 5E version couldn't use a hoopak or would have to use a feat to do it, which is a waste. It's especially silly since a hoopak is essentially a sling attached to a short spear (the end opposite the sling is pointed), both of which are simple weapons. I understand the game design logic of two simple weapons becoming a martial weapon when combined, but I strongly disagree with its implementation.

Knights of Solamnia and Mages of High Sorcery are covered under organizations with backgrounds for both. New Feats provide abilities for knights and adepts of the red, white or black robes are included. I'm not a fan of Feat Trees/stacked prerequisites for Feats, but based on comments at press events and the details in this book, it looks like WotC is heading in that direction. If they can keep them from being unwieldy, it'll be fine, but we’ll see if they can pull it off.

Lunar Sorcery is a new subclass for sorcerers to reflect the moon's magical associations in the world of Krynn. Lunar sorcerers can also channel the magic of the full, crescent, or new moon phases and gain extra spells as a result.

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Prelude to War​

That's the apt title of the second chapter, lays out the course of the whole adventure for the DM, with a flowchart (yay!) and a list of NPCs with a pronunciation guide (double yay!). D:SotDQ takes place during events we've already seen before and during the War of the Lance. Krynn is a big world and Takhisis plans to conquer all of it. The original books focused a lot on the blue dragon army led by Kitiara Uth Matar. D:SotDQ takes place on the continent of Ansalon and the invasion of Solamnia by Kansaldi Fire-Eyes and the red dragon army. This is a smart decision. I commend Schneider for because it doesn't replace or change the original modules or novels. It just shifts focus to another part of the war.

The rest of the chapter focuses on three short prelude encounters for the first level characters so they can start to get a sense of what is to come, beginning with a message about the death of a friend in Vogler (more on that village below). One prelude hints at the mystery of the draconians. Another enables characters to start the road to becoming a mage of high sorcery. The last is about the return of the gods and the true nature between them and the people of Krynn.

I really like the preludes. It's a smart way to give first level characters something to do that's level appropriate, tease them toward the next step of the adventure, and lays the groundwork for the players to become emotionally invested in the story. That last part is important because ultimately D:SotDQ is a story about the cost of war and the toll it takes. That story is less effective if run as a “rah, rah, combat!” situation. By instead investing the players in the outcome of the invasion, the players will have a better experience.

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War Arrives​

Chapter three focuses on the fishing town of Vogler. A small gazetteer in this chapter helps DMs set the stage for the lovely little village where players will attend their friend's funeral and participate in its Kingfisher Tournament. It's also where they first meet Darrett Highwater, a squire NPC the players will continue to meet over the course of the adventure as the war progresses and Highwater advances in skill by necessity.

I'd play up the connections to Vogler even more than the book suggests, like suggesting at least one player lived in the town at some point. Giving the players other friends in town, like Mayor Raven Uth Vogler, would also help with making them feel more invested in Vogler's fate.

By the end of the chapter, everyone knows of the Dragon Queen's invasion, and the citizens of Vogler have been evacuated, setting the stage for the next phase.

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Shadow of War​

While Dragonlance has always been the D&D setting focused on war, it doesn't want to be a tactical war game. Instead, it focuses on a small group of heroes whose actions can have an impact on a larger war. That's what the rest of D:SotDQ focuses on with a chapter dedicated to the city of Kalaman.

Another small gazetteer helps the DM set the scene. The players have arrived with refugees from Vogler, and their friend Highwater encourages them to join him in helping Kalaman's military. The players will be able to scout the enemy's territory and discover more about the red dragon army's goals and strategies.

In chapter five, the players explore the Northern Wastes, seeking to find the City of Lost Names and discover why the infamous Lord Soth thinks it could be the key to the dragon army's victory. Lord Soth is one of those NPC stat blocks in the back but at CR 19 he's not really designed for the players to take on. Think of him here as Thanos in the first Avengers movie—too powerful for a new group to take on directly. Instead of taking Lord Soth on in a one-on-one fight, the PCs are encouraged to follow him in the hopes of thwarting his plans.

While the players will be involved in battlefield scenes, especially if they cross over to D:WoK, they'll have smaller objectives in those battles. The rest of the time they'll be doing a lot of exploring and sneaking to evade Takhisis' forces, discover their plans, and maybe even repair one of the legendary dragonlances.

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Going Deluxe​

While D:SotDQ can be played on its own as a pure RPG experience, WotC decided to try a few new options. One is hiring veteran board game designers Rob Daviau (Risk Legacy, Pandemic Legacy, Axis & Allies Pacific) and Stephen Baker (HeroQuest, HeroScape) to create the board game Dragonlance: Warrriors of Krynn instead of making mass combat RPG rules to accommodate the larger scale of battles used Dragonlance. The other was creating various bundles including physical/digital combos of the book and a Deluxe Edition that has the RPG, board game, and DM screen.

The Dragonlance Deluxe DMs screen art is a fiery four-panel battle scene by Anato Finnstark. The inside has the usual info (Conditions, setting DCs, cover, etc.) and useful random encounter charts for inside a war zone, the Northern Wastes and Kalaman, dragon army supplies, and prisoners.

I also have to give WotC a shout-out for listening to feedback. The Deluxe Edition's outer box is glued shut just like the Terrain Case and Creature Case were because the contents are too heavy for tuck flap boxes. However, the Deluxe Edition has tear strips to make opening the outer box easy. This addresses the problem with the cases, which were difficult to open without shredding them or possibly damaging the box inside.

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Warriors of Krynn​

The number of game components for D:WoK can be daunting at first glance. Yes, there are a bunch of cards, tokens, and custom d6s, but the setup isn't a Twilight Imperium redo. I think it was actually easier than Axis & Allies setup but your mileage may vary.

Similarly, there's a lot to keep track of at first, such as exhaustion, combat turns, etc., but it's logical, and you get the hang of it quickly. By the end of the first scenario, I thought it was fairly easy to remember the rules while still allowing for a lot of strategy during play.

You do have to be careful during setup because certain cards are marked to stay wrapped until you're told to open them during play. That said, D:WoK is not a legacy game where cards are destroyed during the course of play (though Daviau's current niche as a game designer is legacy games). Instead this is about avoiding surprises.

The cooperative board game comes with six heroes, each of which gets an unpainted miniature. The minis are the same size and scale as those used for RPGs, which was wise. That also enables you to use your own minis if you're playing both games and bringing over your characters.

If you're playing both games, when play moves over the board game, the DM isn’t left in the lurch. They can either play a spare hero or roll dice for the villains and handle that side of the game.

The board game provides a lot of scenarios, but the designers assume that people will also make their own. They also assume that people might kitbash D:WoK to use it for mass combat in other D&D campaigns. I haven't tried to make my own scenario, but it seems easy enough to do.

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RPG Meets Board Game​

Page 71 of D:SotDQ is the first incident where the two Dragonlance products can interact if you own both and choose to use them that way. A sidebar box in D:SotDQ is labeled “Warriors of Krynn Scenario X” and gives a brief summary of the scenario with directions to go to its matching scenario material in D:WoK. The rest of the box explains what to do when D:WoK play is over. During press events Schneider referred to this material as providing “a soft landing” for coming back to the RPG.

That entails what happens on the RPG side if the board game scenario ended in a win, hold, or loss. Wins may include gaining special items or boons. Notes on NPC's behavior and actions are also included as well as directions as to what to run next. For example, a DM can choose any encounter from the “Invasion of Vogler” section during the evacuation.

Whether you like this back and forth between the two games is highly personal and at least partially dependent upon how you feel about board games. If you don't have D:WoK, you can continue the RPG adventure and ignore the D:WoK scenario boxes. If you only have the board game, it plays just fine without the RPG component.
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Looking Good​

The quality of the artwork is excellent. Except for a few quibbles here and there, I love the design of the 5E books, and credit for that goes to Senior Art Director Kate Irwin. For D:SotDQ, the team raised the stakes by opening chapters with a page and a half of artwork to provide a sense of scope and the larger scale appropriate for war.

My favorite is Daarken's art for chapter 4, “Shadow of War.” It has a sense of scale, conveys the weight of coming war, and at the same time the dogs running happily alongside the knights are a glimmer of the everyday life that is under threat.

That piece is also one of the few big pieces that isn't dark. I understand the idea that the literal fires of war (and dragon breath) would create a lot of smoke, but my quibble with some of the art is that a dark scene can still be “lit” in a way that figures in the dark still have clear definition. To put it in terms of film cinematography, think about the difference between Underworld, where you can clearly see people wearing black in the dark, versus The Batman (2021).

Fortunately, not all of the art falls into that “darkly lit” trap. Some are on a smoky battlefield that's still well-lit by fire. And some art, like the dragons taking flight by Crystal Sully, revel in glorious color.

I don't have any quibbles about the three book covers. Yes, THREE.

The standard edition cover painted by Cynthia Sheppard showcases the invasion of Kalaman with a red dragon prominently featured, and it's terrific. Anyone buying the Deluxe Edition that contains D:SotDQ, a DM screen, and the D:WoK board game gets a different book cover, featuring “Escape from Vogler” by artist Ralph Horsley. The metallic inks used in the art don't show up in photographs but look great in person.

The alternate cover sold through games stores is just as stunning. Chase Stone created an image of Lord Soth that looks so real you almost think you could reach out and touch him. It rivals my favorite D&D covers by Hydro74.

Kender by Nikki Dawes.jpg

Thoughts on the Execution​

It's really obvious that Schneider and his writing team put a lot of thought and care into this Dragonlance revival. Focusing on another front in the War of the Lance was a very smart move, and it leaves room to do the same in another area of Krynn if this one sells well enough. The team was clearly trying to add to and enhance what came before in Dragonlance instead of redoing or replacing it.

They also made some very smart design choices in D:SotDQ. The prelude adventures (and initial events in Vogler) are a great way to pull the characters in and start to emotionally invest them in the toll war takes on people. I would have amped this up even more by giving players more ties to the town, but a DM could easily do that on their own with little effort.

Deciding to not do a larger gazetteer makes sense considering the extensive sourcebooks that already exist, but the lore lover in me is disappointed. They still gave us plenty to work with (a lot more than Spelljammer did), and even sea elves, who are often neglected, get some attention. But I really dislike the hoopak's weapon classification and how Kender Fearlessness was defined. I'd change both at my table.

The gnome siege weapons are clever and sometimes provide just enough humor to lighten an otherwise serious scenario.

So I'm mostly happy with how D:SotDQ turned out, but I also realized that I didn't personally want a Dragonlance revival as much as I thought I did. When it first came out in 1984 it seemed fresh, and my gaming buddies and I devoured the novels and enjoyed playing the modules. While I still count myself a Dragonlance fan, reading D:SotDQ made me realize that so much of my warm, fuzzy feelings for the setting are tied up in that time, place, and people, and no revival, even when very well done, will create those same feelings. My tastes have also changed over the years.

And since we've already had Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Tyranny of Dragons, even this dragon-obsessed gamer may want to replace yet another Tiamat/Takhisis trying to conquer the world story with a different dragon-centric adventure, like Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel. Or maybe something with the neutral gem dragons playing the chromatic and metallic dragons against each other for mysterious reasons.

I'm similarly conflicted with the dual game approach for this Dragonlance. On one hand, I appreciate taking chances. The safe bet would have been to make standard RPG mass combat rules. Creating a board game that can crossover with the RPG is a bold move, and it works. But not all RPG players like board games and buying both is a steeper price point. WotC was wise to make playing both entirely optional.

I do like that they assume people will customize D:WoK for other campaigns, homebrew or not. However, timing and circumstances are a bit against them. My D&D game moved to Discord in March 2020, and we're still playing that way for a variety of reasons. I know we're not alone in that. That takes away incentive to cross over to D:WoK for D:SotDQ's battle sequences.

As a standalone board game, D:WoK is solid. I know several friends who will like it.

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Should You Buy It?​

Normally at this point in a review I list a few “if you like A, then Z” statements to help reader assess if a product is right for them. For revivals of legacy settings so long as the new version is well done, it's usually a no-brainer to say, “If you like X setting you'll like this version.” But as I mentioned above, how you enjoy this set likely depends on your relationship with the Dragonlance setting.

To my mind, it looks and feels like a Dragonlance adventure, and a good one at that. They even took great care to have this adventure sit next established War of the Lance adventures instead of replacing or changing the original material. But if you want that exact feeling the original gave you in the Eighties, well, as the saying goes, you can't go home again.

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Summing It Up​

From a design standpoint, I really like most of what they did with D:SotDQ, and D:WoK is a good board game. But I was never emotionally engaged while reading it and nothing hit that “I have to run/play this” button in me.

However, D:SotDQ is definitely the superior setting revival compared to Spelljammer, which I wanted to love and enjoyed parts of. It just didn't have enough of anything and had one serious stumble. By contrast, D:SotDQ just didn't quite hit the highs that Radiant Citadel and Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft had, both of which were also Schneider projects, but is a solid, thoughtful revival.

So D:SotDQ is easily a B+, and maybe an A- if my old love of Dragonlance rekindles at some point or I'm in the mood for a war setting.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels




WageMage

Old School!
In regards to the boardgame, is it easy to import one's own character into the game? I remember WotC indicating you could play your own characters, but I'm not sure if I'm remembering that correctly...
 
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If they were going to launch a board game tie in I think Spelljammer tactical ship combat would have been the time.
I totally agree. I ran my first 5E Spelljammer game last night, probably my first in at least 25 years. It was fun but we had a little bit of a hard time visualizing the ship-to-ship combat with ToTM. I'd pay quite a steep price for a SJ board game that included a good amount of Spelljammer miniatures/tokens to create armies or even a small battle, think Risk or Gloomhaven for the number of pieces that come with it. I refuse to pay for the WizKids SJ minis, there is just too many Im not interested in.
 

I totally agree. I ran my first 5E Spelljammer game last night, probably my first in at least 25 years. It was fun but we had a little bit of a hard time visualizing the ship-to-ship combat with ToTM. I'd pay quite a steep price for a SJ board game that included a good amount of Spelljammer miniatures/tokens to create armies or even a small battle, think Risk or Gloomhaven for the number of pieces that come with it. I refuse to pay for the WizKids SJ minis, there is just too many Im not interested in.

Yeah I agree on the Wizkid miniatures. I got plenty of rocks in my yard. In a perfect world they could sell a ship mini with a fold out deck plan map. And charge $20 per ship and I would probably plunk down. $200 in a heartbeat.
 

Ymdar

Explorer
I don't like Dragonlance; however could this adventure be cannibalised to be used as a continuation of a failed Tyranny of Dragons adventure?
 

Von Ether

Legend
I have a stronger attachment to the SAGA system (both of them), than I do to Dragonlance.

That said, I think I'll put the boardgame on my 2023 buy list and eventually get DL at some point. I especially like how I could probably kit bash it with the other dragon themed 5e adventures and have a whole campaign plus mode.
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I agree with this overall review.

My biggest gripe is that it I wanted more side stuff / war stuff. I think they did a decent job of this, but I could have used more. I'm not sure I wanted an adventure to stop Soth from winning this part of the war. So, maybe it was that it isn't what I expected? I don't know. But something about the end goal feels off (though I love that it isn't about stopping the war overall, or fighting a goddess).
 


grimslade

Krampus ate my d20s
Glad to hear that creating new scenarios for the board game seems easy to do. That was my biggest worry is that the game could be fun but limited in replayability.
Ultimately, what we are learning about these nostalgia settings is that everyone made the setting their own in a lot of ways. The lapse in 'official' content made tables drift apart in specifics so every revival seems like a bad fit. The problem with using legacy game materials to fill in the lore portion is that everybody's play experience since those released is different, so their reaction to the new content will be different. It will always have an uncanny valley aspect to it. A retcon of lore is always dreaded but sometimes it resets a communal expectation of the setting. I don't know which is worse. Time for more new settings.
 

beholdsa

Explorer
As I mostly game online these days, I'm hoping that there's soon an easy way to play Warriors of Krynn online, alongside the campaign. Otherwise, it sounds great!

I have a stronger attachment to the SAGA system (both of them), than I do to Dragonlance.
SAGA still is one of my favorite systems!
 

I got plenty of rocks in my yard
I know right. Even a ball of masking tape would be better, at least it would roll and I could lob one on the table and clobber a few Spelljammers. The meteorites, asteroids and comets and such is just a waste IMO.
In a perfect world they could sell a ship mini with a fold out deck plan map.
Thats not a bad idea actually. Minis for ship to ship, fold out deck maps to 5' scale for boarding. The hardcover book in the SJ boxed set that has the deck plans is useless at the game table and lazy. At the very least make them available for free as a download web enhancement like they used to in 3E. I'm pretty sick of WotC one and done products that get no support after release.
 

wicked cool

Adventurer
Not getting the vibe that this adventure cracks the top 5 in published adventures. Hard skip on the board game as it looks like a nothing . You have to put up a better presentation that that
 



I totally agree. I ran my first 5E Spelljammer game last night, probably my first in at least 25 years. It was fun but we had a little bit of a hard time visualizing the ship-to-ship combat with ToTM. I'd pay quite a steep price for a SJ board game that included a good amount of Spelljammer miniatures/tokens to create armies or even a small battle, think Risk or Gloomhaven for the number of pieces that come with it. I refuse to pay for the WizKids SJ minis, there is just too many Im not interested in.

I recently updated the mechanics playtest document (in addition to the main preview document) for my Realmspace project on DMsGuild, which includes abstract rules for ship maneuvering to cover high speed combat, chases, crash landings, etc. -- It might help with your Spelljammer gameplay experience.

It's a free download, as the current available documents are for preview and playtest.

REALMSPACE Traveler's Guide - PREVIEW EDITION - Dungeon Masters Guild | Dungeon Masters Guild

I'm going to try to cover ship-based weapons on the next update. It probably won't take nearly as long as this one did.
 

Hussar

Legend
How hard would it be to port the board game into something like Virutal Game Table or even an RPG VTT like Fantasy Grounds?
 


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