Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Confessing Dragonlance

I have a love-hate relationship with Dragonlance. I can beat it up all day, but it continues to draw me to it, like a moth to a flame.

I once heard it said that "whatever you're into circa age 12 will be the things that continue to fascinate you the rest of your life" (they may have been speaking only of boys/men). For myself, there's certainly an element of truth to that. The Seattle Seahawks. Dungeons & Dragons. And, sure, the Dragonlance saga.

One of the NAP2 adventure entries in Prince's contest was a little entry called Keep the Pace, a fairly creative submission that took some shit from me for being something that occurs entirely within a dream. *sigh* As I commented at the time: not my cup of tea. "Dream adventures" is something I associate with the old World of Darkness (games like Vampire, Mage, 3rd edition Ars Magica, etc.) written for the "Storyteller" system (yes, that's the actual name WoD gives their proprietary mechanics) which I played extensively back in the 1990s. 

But there have, of course, been the occasional D&D forays into dreams (and, heck, back in my youth I remember running some dream shenanigans in my own AD&D campaign...embarrassing to admit). Combing my memory for some of these, the one that sprang foremost to mind was adventure module DL10: Dragons of Dreams. Written by Tracy Raye Hickman and featuring one of my absolute favorite covers (Caldwell), this is an adventure I've never owned nor read, though having read Spring Dawning multiple times (told you I was a fan) I am aware of the whole Silvanesti/Cyan Bloodbane/forest-locked-in-dream-thrall scenario. 

All green dragons
should be so cool.
SO...decided the other day to grab a PDF copy of the thing and check it out. And by the adventure. It's a how the whole "dream thing" is handled. 

So THEN I spent more than a bit of time looking for an in-depth review of the module...preferably one that included an actual play report that didn't come from someone hacking the mechanics and just doing some heavy-handed "narrative driven" drivel with their players. Couldn't find a single one (there's a four part YouTube video of actual play that I started listening to, but they're not using the original characters and include...for example...a "draconian paladin" as a PC, which makes me wince more than a little). What I did find was an extensive deep dive of every Dragonlance module published for AD&D (and many of their 3E adaptations). Ended up spending a couple-few days going through that.

The writing of the author ("Purple XVI") is caustic and profanity laden, in the style of Bryce or Prince, but there's an obvious affection for the source material. No one "hates" a topic, setting, or product line so much as to spend THAT much effort dissecting it. I know I write long, rambling screeds and rants about how beloved "classic" adventures are crap...but this is tens of thousands of words (99,819 words per my laptop). Without an actual fondness for the material no one's going to martyr themselves simply to lampoon an entire series...a series that MANY folks agree (at this point in time) Weren't Well Done.

So what does that say about me? Well, as I said, I was a fan of the novels in my youth, but I never owned, ran, or played any of the DL adventure modules. My co-DM owned a couple, but said they were awful (remember: at the time she was 14 and a fan of the novels, too, but even then we could recognize they were crap D&D). But, while I have absolutely no desire to run an epic heroic railroad (hey, man, I said I ran a lot of WoD back in the day...) and unequivocally loathe many of the design choices made by the Hickmans and their co-authors, STILL the series, the world of Krynn, and the potentiality of the setting holds an immense fascination for me.

Reading Purple's reviews was a way of assuaging my curiosity without going out, buying, and reading the whole shebang myself.

There's just so much material there! Multi-level dungeons! And DRAGONS! Did you know: the original impetus/idea of the DL series was to create a 12 module series with each featuring one of the cannonical MM dragons? Yes, that includes both Bahamut and Tiamat (those were modules DL13 and DL14, respectively). Why, then, were there 14 modules (originally) published? Because DL5 was a mini "setting sourcebook" (an overview of the Krynn world) and DL11: Dragons of Glory was a chit-and-hex wargame for running battles during the War of the Lance. SO...remove DL5 and DL11 and you get 12 adventure modules, each corresponding with one of the month/paintings of the original Dragonlance calendar from 1985 (the cover of the calendar was used for the cover of DL5). 

It was a DELIGHTFUL attempt at creating a succinct, 12-issue campaign series. With extensive, multi-level dungeons, such a project could occupy at least a year of game play...and probably years if the thing was run as a sandbox campaign instead of a story oriented railroad. While I'm not as enamored with the Dirtbag Dragonlance concept as some folks, I do like the idea of running the world as a war-torn, post-apocalyptic fantasy setting where players must find a way to survive and thrive.

It's Twilight 2000 for AD&D.  Hell, the size of the setting isn't much different from Eastern Europe (the continent of Ansalon, as mapped, is only about half the size of Australia, and has a lot more water in its interior). My own campaign world is smaller in terms of area, but not so much in terms of land mass, considering all the inland seas.. Which is to say: the thing is TINY.  And that's fine for a pseudo-medieval fantasy campaign that doesn't provide jet airliners for commercial intercontinental travel. The Cataclysmic changes the world's undergone from being hit by a divine meteor strike has resulted in plenty of dungeons and monster-infested wilderness, even as it's left some city states with better-than-usual technology remaining. In many ways, Krynn/Ansalon is a perfect world setting for D&D...even before you add in the dragon war.

And so we come to this: even though I really, REALLY don't care about the DL fiction that's been penned over the years (despite my absurd fondness for the original two trilogies), the setting/situation created by the Hickmans remains appealing as a very game-worthy environment in which to set a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. And while I have no wish (zero! zilch!) to play through the modules as written (they are, in fact, terrible), I find myself really loving the idea of possibly running a campaign set in the World of Krynn...of, in fact, taking those first 12-14 modules and mining them for stones from which to build a most excellent imaginary environment worth exploring.

A fool's errand. That's a statement, not a rhetorical question. It is madness to conceive of this as a project...especially as a commercial project (which, indeed, is what I've been considering over the last few days). And, yet, the idea...and ideas related to it...simply won't let go of my brain. 

Now, I'll tell you folks, a lot of times when I breathe out something like this into the internet it cures me of that buzzing bee in my bonnet. Just typing out the words and phrases of what's rambling in my head helps settle my firing synapses and bring me back to a more "neutral" frame of mind. But not always...and, perhaps, not this time.  If that turns out to be the case...if just writing about this subject begins to stoke the fire in my mind rather than douse its flames...and if I actually begin writing this thing that looms in my imagination...well, I'll post a few more missives on the subject. 

It's a completely idiotic idea for a project. But, right now, it's one that's got some "grab" to it. 


  1. What a great confession. Your first challenge would be to what to change for it to be sandboxy enough to avoid the railroad and I imagine that the second challenge would be to avoid the risk of cease & desist letters from IP holders.

    Still worthwhile to sketch it all out though, for if you don't use it for DL you might find another use for it later.

    I've two big ideas which I've nestled and day dreamed about. One I'm keeping to myself, but the other is the idea of a D&D campaign written around the twelve tasks of Heracles. I've sketched out each task and how it might come into being in a D&D world for a party of 3-4 level 4-8 PC. It's fun to think about how to flesh it out every now and then.

    1. The removal of rails is, actually, not the hard part. You just have to cease caring about the story. Look:

      You've got a continent. Different nations/peoples. A "situation" going on (post-apocalypse + god-sponsored warfare). A handful of scattered "dungeons." Rumor table. Go.

      'Filing off the serial numbers' (to avoid the C&Ds) ain't all that tough...I'm not a fan of draconians anyway, and most everything else is well within the bounds of "generic."

      My MAIN hangup was considering which system to write it for. The Hickmans' stuff always strikes me as "written for OD&D+Greyhawk" (i.e. B/X etc.) more than actual AD& see this with both DL and Ravenloft, for example. And while I prefer 1E, OSE (a B/X clone) is far more popular than OSRIC. It would be a piece of easy to do "OSE Dragonlance"...but that's not the system I play/run.

    2. Now that I've thought about it I understand the point you make about the material being suited for BX rather than 1e. Ravenloft and Dragonlance are quite clean and packaged with all the really grim stuff implied by their premises hidden away. 1e with its assassins, demons & devil's, and murder hobo cover to the DMG isn't the right system, so BX it is.

      The backdrop of punishment by the gods works well and provides a 'plausible' reason for the existence of dungeons and their denizens.

      I think that I still needs to be recognisably Krynn though as that provides a great hook for anyone who plays.

      While you're at the idea generation stage, any chance of giving us BX Middle Earth part 2? ;-)

    3. Really, man? Really?!
      ; )

      Actually, the idea of returning to B/X Middle Earth *did* cross my mind a few days ago (Tuesday? Maybe)...probably because I was thinking about THIS wretched idea. Still have my notes for that somewhere.

      It's tough, man...not only am I busy but my "fire" for Middle Earth has been considerably dampened of late.

  2. Watching this one. My relationship with Dragonlance extends to the first two trilogies and that is about it. I do have one module I ran, DL15 Mists of Krynn, and I have played around with one character.
    So my insight here is minimal but I am looking forward to your analysis. Especially since you admit that you have a "love/hate" relationship and not the typical "hate/hate" relationship I typically see online.

    1. Ha! I take that as a compliment that I've piqued your interest!

      "Hate/hate?" Huh. There's definitely a lot of 'piling on' that occurs when a popular franchise has flaws and detractors willing to point them out. But is there such a thing as bad publicity? After more than a decade of nothing, Weis and Hickman just put out a new DL novel in August. WotC announced (last April) that there would be a new DL adventure for 5E being released in 12/2022.

      The bile spewed at Dragonlance still works to keep it in folks' minds...and I'd guess it's only a matter of time before the pendulum swings back the other way.

  3. Man, I went through nearly the same journey 2 or 3 years ago. Nostalgia for the novels made me want to just take the world, and the dungeons feom the modules, and run it as a sandbox setting. Finally getting my hands on the DL Adventures hardback, and reading a lot of the silly lore of Krynn killed my enthusiasm.

    1. Yeah. You’ve got to ignore almost all of the lore.

      Also (for me) the mantra I keep repeating in my head is “it’s not my fault…it’s not my fault…”
      ; )

  4. "__________ done my way" is a time-honored, even foundational, concept in RP gaming. It only becomes a fool's errand if you make more of it that it is -- a personal entertainment. Yes, it will eat of time and mind, but all the best things do.

  5. Isn't Bob's post really saying that the Dragonlance modules are your fantasy heartbreaker? That your fire to redo it your way is because TSR poured a huge amount of resource into a great idea and messed it up?

    It will be a time sink, it will be intense and fun, but it won't see the light of day and it will drive you mad.


  6. What's weird is that the Dragonlace novels 100% got me into D&D after I chanced across "Time of the Twins" at the Lincoln Public Library sometime in 1991. By the end of the following school year, I had the big black D&D boxed set with the red dragon and the dude with the axe on it. I read the shit out of those novels, even all of the horrible spinoffs and prequels and interquels and whatnot...

    ...and yet I never once played Dragonlance as a tabletop game, and have never read any of the modules. XD

    Regardless, they were very formative to my early D&D experience, and for a long time, the covers of the Dragonlance novels were the basis of visualizing D&D inside my head.

    1. Ha! That's amazing! I've heard from folks that got drawn to the hobby through video games (TSR or otherwise) but through a TSR-sponsored novel? That's a new one.

      For me, I'd already been playing 2-3 years (probably 2 years "seriously") when the novels were published. However, their effect was something close to transformative. NOTE: I said "close to;" if you play D&D long enough (with folks who are invested and have half a brain) your game has the potential to evolve something with the "depth" of Dragonlance...yes, even if you're a 12 year old kid.

      Mm. That might be the subject for a different post.

    2. Well, I was prepped for D&D by Hero Quest, so when I actually started reading D&D, the basic gameplay concepts were already familiar to me.

      Also, I started playing at 10, not 12. :P

      But yeah, I remember my first original world map had an island that was basically ancient Greece instead of the regular pseudo-medieval backdrop and I thought it was the most brilliant idea ever.

  7. I read the first trilogy in 2006. I remember because I was in my last year of college and I would read in my free time between school and the hospital I was working on at the time (work for school credits; I don't know if this exists outside Mexico). Anyway, I loved the story and the characters (specially Raistlin). But, yeah, I haven't read them since, and I have read many more fantasy and non-genre novels, and I would probably see their flaws.

    But the game? I only read the 3e book and thought it was a better setting than Forgotten Realms, more political, less whimsical.

    I would have not considered playing DL, but that setting you thinking about? Now that sounds interesting, an actual OSR setting where dragons are important and not just there.

    At age 12 I was into Sepultura, Iron Maiden, techno and Nirvana. 30 years later I still like Sepultura. I was also into video games and a little later, RPGs. And I still play both!

    1. Huh. Considering the trilogy was 20 years old by then, that’s pretty amazing. We’re they translated into Spanish or were you reading them in the original English?

      There’s actually a lot of whimsy and gonzo in Weis/Hickman’s work, both of which would fit well with certain OSR segments. My version would probably be a lot leaner and meaner.

    2. In Spanish. In Spain, they translated a lot of D&D since the 80s and 90s, and some of those translations ended up in Mexico, but I was only vaguely aware of their existence. I only started reading fantasy when the LotR movies made them popular; before that, I read horror, mainstream fiction, poetry and a few older science fiction or fantasy books, like Verne.

  8. Replies
    1. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, I’d have have to disagree Venger.

      However, I’m sure anything *I* come up with will be less original than Cha’alt.
      ; )