Saturday, November 7, 2020

Reclamation Project

Despite my recent posts on running campaigns, I have to say I'm not in a position at the moment to actually start up a campaign. Not really. And that's okay! Because: A) I now have some NEW ideas about how to run/manage a campaign (based on my recent reflections) that give me a hopeful "pathway" to what I'm looking for, and B) My "position" (with regard to running a campaign) may well be turning around in the near future; there's a light at the end of that particular tunnel.

However: not now and not yet.

In the meantime, I've got a new idea buzzing around in this bonnet of mine and given how (in the past) those have morphed into some of my best ideas ( feels like that's the case, though I haven't been keeping count) I've decided to bat it around a bit and see what comes of it. Though I know it's going to bore and/or irritate the hell out of some of my readers.

Dragonlance. That's what I'm talking about.

First, the preamble: my actual knowledge of Dragonlance only goes so deep. Here's the summary of it: I read the first two trilogies (when they were first published). My friend owned a handful of the old TSR adventure modules, but we never ran any of them. I read one or two of the later short story anthologies, maybe played an "Endless Quest" book or two based in the DL setting, and have (in recent years) read/skimmed many of the old 1st edition modules. Anything else Dragonlance related (later books/stories, SAGA edition DL, conversions and setting books for 3E - 5E etc.) makes no nevermind to me; I have ZERO interest in ANY of it.

And the reason I have ZERO interest in it is this: it's all a goddamn cash grab. The first six novels aren't great; they have a certain nostalgic value to me that I'd compare to what my 30-some year old readers have in their relationship with Harry Potter (I've read the Potter books and find them to be...mostly...trash; however, they weren't published till I was an adult and kids who grew up with them will always have a special place in their hearts for Rowling's series). But once the War of the Lance was over (i.e. gods returned to Krynn, balance restored) and the "matter of Raistlin" settled, the story for me was over. I did not need to know anything about the children (or children's children) of the original protagonists or any of that...that's the same kind of BS that leads to a continuing Star Wars saga that must always feature Skywalker-Solo-Palpatine relatives. 

[and I'm not just talking about Episodes VII - IX. I'm talking about the entire "Expanded Universe" of books and novels and comics and whatnot...the merchandising machine that is the Star Wars franchise]

I'm not terribly interested in IP franchises. Some are more interesting than others, sure. But mostly I find them as callously and/or ill-thought out ways to fleece fans out of money. And while I may sound cynical with my derogatory tone and terms, I'm just trying to acknowledge the facts of the world: that's how this stuff works these days. 

  • Someone creates something that is a labor of love. 
  • It achieves an enormous popularity. 
  • Creators make some money. 
  • Corporation buys creation for exorbitant sum. 
  • Corporation milks creation in order to profit from investment. 

That's fine and dandy (I mean, it's the model we're stuck with) but that doesn't mean I'm required to "buy in" and read up on the "Chaos Wars" or the further adventures of Kronin Thistleknot or whatever. And since I'm not required, I'm choosing to opt out.

*AHEM* Preamble out of the way. So why am I looking at Dragonlance again? Welp, I was checking up on some of my old fave podcasts and saw the Boiz from Alabamia (ggnore) are still at it, and most recently have been running through DL1: Dragons of Despair. This being one of the DL modules I actually own (and being from a formative stage of D&D's evolution) I was more than a little excited to give it a listen and see how THEY handled it...especially given their penchant for "rage-quitting" every time they attempt to run a typical WotC "adventure arc" (DL being the original railroad campaign). Figured I'd check it out.

And how'd it turn out? Meh, mostly. The ggnore guys are highly amusing/entertaining, but the adventure itself was pretty mediocre. And mostly that's because the adventure itself is pretty mediocre (or worse)...though I will be the first to admit that 5th edition (which the kids use to run the game) bug the shit out of me, and is a constant source of annoyance. But I'm aware that's my hangup...and even I liked 5E it wouldn't change my opinion of the module as a module.

But if anything (this is the ridiculous part), listening to the failure or a "straight take" on Dragonlance As Written (DAW) fires me up to rehabilitate the damn thing. As I said: ridiculous. But I keep thinking about (and re-reading) GusL's old posts on the subject...and I keep thinking DL isn't that bad. Actually, it's better than "not bad:" it's downright intriguing, if one is willing to divorce it from the overall narrative structure, and from the adventure modules' attempts to execute that narrative structure within an illusionary "D&D campaign."

Post-apocalyptic fantasy world is great, in other words! For one thing (and I admit this is completely selfish of me), one can totally explain the fantasy world landscape to be "screwed up" with regard to things like geography and population centers being outside of realistic paradigms. Why is this ruined seaport town in a desert? Because of the Cataclysm! Why is this empire broken up over multiple islands? Because of the Cataclysm! It all made sense before the world was hit by a divine meteor strike...duh!'s what I'm thinking: I'm going to take a couple "exploratory steps" which (at the moment...very late at night over here) will look something like this:

Step 1: Dispense with the sundry. Boil the setting history down into a couple paragraphs. Most everything "historical" about Krynn (its basic timeline) will be myths, legends, and half-truths at best. It's a post Cataclysm world and no one really knows why there are dwarves and gnomes (for example) or why the gods abandoned the world...and it doesn't really matter. Survival does.

Step 2: REALLY dispense with the sundry. There are no "Heroes of the Lance" (Raistlin, Tanis, all those folks) least not as "player characters." Major NPCs (especially antagonists and allies) will be retained, though with more realistic bios and mustache-twirling villains! Fortunately, most of the characters ARE pretty good (if one uses the later novels as a guide)...they just need a little polishing. NPCs that become "heroes" in the books (and PCs in the modules: Laurana, Gilthanas, Gunther, etc.) will probably skip the development arcs of the Hickman/Weiss novels. But no great plot-armored "heroes with destinies;" they're all dead in ditches somewhere (yes, even Riverwind and Gold Moon...Jesus, the whole "barbarian plainsman" thing really needs a re-skin!).

Step 3: Correct one or two missteps. I've written before about my issues with the gold and religion "tweaks" in the DL campaign setting. These will need to be rethought and corrected. I like the idea of spell-less clerics (or, rather, the idea of spell-casting clerics as "expandable content" to the setting), but it needs a little reworking as presented. No, Elistan does not simply show up as a 7th level "true cleric." Un-uh. And basic issues of economy and fungible types of exchange will be better worked out when I work through the post-apocalyptic world and the population centers that exist. I haven't decided on kender, yet...or even draconians. I mean, are they (draconians) really necessary? A whole 'nother topic.

Step 4: Overhaul a module or two. Not nearly as gruesome a task as it sounds; mainly consists of editing out the bulk of the useless (flavor text, railroad arcs, pre-gen PCs, and moralistic motivations) and see what's left...I'm guessing it will look something like a handful of maps, some NPC placements (lairs, villages, and whatnot), and some kind of timeline with regard to movements and logistics of the Dragon Army. Ideally, I'd like to strip down the 12 modules that made up the original saga (DL1-4, 6-10, and 12-14) to get a general outline of the coordination of the "Krynn Conquest" and use that as the basis of play. 

The more I think about it, the more I want to do it. But man o man, it is LATE and I really need to get some sleep...there's been a lot less than normal this week, if you can imagine. Maybe I'm just a bit loopy.

; )


  1. This sounds a great idea. Perhaps you could take it one module at a time explaining what needs to be fixed, why you think so, and what you would do to fix it.

    I agree with the idea that there's a good campaign in the original modules, I'm just not sure how to deal with setback. Perhaps there's a wider 'scorecard' of which side is winning and if the players' side falls below a certain value then they have failed.

    Draconians work okay but perhaps evil humans would be better.

    On your point about the exploitation of IP you are right about the cycle, and I always find it disheartening that there's very little nurturing of something which is good. It's very much make a buck as quickly as possible and find the next thing.

    The one IP which I can think of which resisted this is Bill Watterston's Calvin & Hobbes, which as much as I wanted a t-shirt or poster you couldn't get. He explained his reasonings which at the time seemed daft but in retrospect were correct. Because of this I can give my kids the Calvin & Hobbes books from the 90s and they can enjoy them as they are - true to the author's ideals

  2. Regarding Star Wars "properties". Largely share your opinion though mine is mostly informed. Don't need to know, don't want to know.
    But I took a recommendation and gave "the mandalorian" a chance. I think you should as well.

    I skipped all of dragonlance bitd. I was still confused by "realism" for RPGs and was playing GURPS and role master by then. Very silly. So I never had any romance for DL, "story", and railroads.

    I do have my own existential angst about starting a new campaign and trying to make something useful of the otherwise paralyzing navel gazing. Am I ruining the fun and missing the point with a " high concept" world, even as it still is a sandbox?

    Did you ever do anything with your B/X version of Shadowrun?

    1. Hey, Redbeard: good to hear from you. Hope you’re doing well.

      I am “all in” on the Mandalorian for a number of reasons, not the least of which is its detachment from the Skywalker family and all the Jedi rigamarole. As, I think Rogue One showed, there’s still some good stories to be told in the SW universe outside the usual heroes.

      I think there’s a little more to DL then just another “high concept” fantasy. I hope to talk about that specifically in a future post (hint: it has to do with both the PA setting and the war backdrop).

      I decided to go ahead and publish Cry Dark Future “as is.” At the moment, I am waiting on my commissioned artwork. However, my artist is slooooooooow...I’ve been waiting more than a year now, I’m large part due to the pandemic. I will post updates on the book as there are updates to post. ; )

  3. Regarding Draconians, they seen nessesary if you keep the reason for the metallic dragons not interfeering in the conflict intact and also want them (metallics) to interfere later on. But of cause you don't need to have metallic dragons in your DL world at all. Might be cooler to only have neutral and evil dragons. I just thought about it.

    Don't have Goldmoon die in a ditch, man. Come on! :D

    1. I was thinking more like Tanis in the ditch...and he was (probably) my favorite character.

      The whole subplot of Riverwind, “Chieftain’s Daughter,” and the quest to find True Gods is something I find...oh, boy, SO silly, overworked, and unoriginal. But even before THAT the *concept* of the plainsman tribes is so ugly (to me)...we’re not talking about a population of people living (and developing) in parallel on a separate, newly discovered and explored continent. We’re talking about a people living for CENTURIES in close proximity to pseudo-Medieval/Renaissance cultures...even after a world-changing Cataclysm! Certainly one might expect more “cultural exchange;” how many years before the indigenous people of North American adopted European methods, especially with regard to weapons (hint: not many). But that’s probably a subject for its own post, too.

  4. Im not sure its worth saving. The maps and the cover art are great but to write a non railroad version of any war time scenario is a daughting process.

    I think it can be run but one of those things that is easier to do than explain how to do if that makes sense.

  5. This is a really intriguing and exciting idea. I have so much nostalgia for the Dragonlance Chronicles and the world of Krynn, Draconians included! A revamp/rehab of the setting without most (or any!) of Weiss & Hickman's PC's or heroic NPC's is something I could really get behind. A Companion-level campaign, with domains, mass combat, etc. set in post-Cataclysm Krynn, defending Ansalon against the Dragonarmies, would be a dream-come-true!

  6. Post-fantasy-apocalypse D&D is awesome, I must say, as someone who's been running a lot of it these past three years. A lot of things make a lot more sense in general if you start with that premise.

  7. This is interesting. I guess there is something in the water because I have also considered picking back up the Dragonlance novels for a reread.

    I bought them when they came out and enjoyed them, but I was also what 13 at the time?
    I tried to reread them a a few years ago and could not get into them at all, but at the time my kids were little and my free time was limited, so I only got in a page or two at a time.

    I never ran or played the Dragonlance modules and never really had any desire to do so. I did enjoy reading the materials and thought some of the world building was fun.

    1. Fun, yes. But also a little problematic.

      I am finding going through the DL stuff to be...*sigh*...not daunting so much as tedious. And a lot of the layout is pretty opaque.