English, Opinions, RPG Resources

Today I Recommend: Dragonlance

My library is organized by a book’s importance in my life. The more important the book, the higher and more to the left it is on the shelf. In my fiction library there are only two authors that have books that come before all the 30+ Dragonlance books I own.

In my RPG library—ordered by their time of arrival to my life—the only book before the Dragonlance-specific books is the Dungeon Master’s Guide for AD&D 2nd Edition (the one with the wizard and the dragon on the cover). If you should consider these pieces of information you should get an idea on how much I love these novels and RPG setting—and I hope that, if you give it chance, maybe you’ll love it too!

What is Dragonlance?

Let’s set the record straight: Dragonlance was primarily an RPG project, created by a group of designers and artists led by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman back in 1983 as a series of twelve RPG adventures centered on dragons as antagonists. Once they got approval from management, the then called “Project Overlord” became a major multimedia event slotted to start publication during 1984. This event included comics, calendars, miniatures and, of course, the idea of producing related fiction in the form of short stories and novels set in the world of Krynn.

From then on Dragonlance went on to become an absolute success, both as the first adventure setting created through a top-down process (instead of the bottom-up approach of earlier settings) and as a trilogy of fantasy novels whose story got expanded into many sequels, prequels, and otherwise related fiction.

I think it is important to clarify here that the novels follow the events presented in the RPG adventures, but that they do so, in my opinion, with a well-paced and engaging narrative whose protagonists are fully-fledged characters with their own personalities, conflicts, and even distinctive patterns of speech. Some people that I respect have commented to me that they feel the novels read like an RPG adventure, but a) that hasn’t been my experience and b) even if it did, I can’t see the fault in that. After all, Dungeons & Dragons had its origin in pulp fiction and when I read stories that could be classified in that (sub)genre—some of those I consider among the best fantasy stories ever written—I can help but imagine them as RPG adventures, and that doesn’t detract one ounce from my literary enjoyment of them.

Why I Love: The Dragonlance Books

As I mentioned before, I consider most of the Dragonlance books to be well-written fantasy stories. In the context of the fantasy genre at large today they may feel a little dated, especially when taking into account the aesthetics of the world of Krynn, with their faux-Native American “barbarians” (later changed to “nomads”, thankfully) and their pseudo-medieval world with almost no mention of noble rulers and an impressive social mobility.

In spite of that, however, the Dragonlance Chronicles—the original trilogy of books that follows the events of the 12 RPG adventures—still manage to include more female characters than any of their contemporaries or predecessors in the fantasy genre. And these female characters tend to avoid the damsel in distress cliché, having their own struggles and resources independent of their male counterparts.

Dragons of Autumn, Dragons of Winter, and Dragons of Spring also present the reader with very interesting thematic elements, such as nature of Good and Evil; the role of faith in society; the value of loyalty and friendship; and the concepts of corruption and redemption. Of course the novels do so not so much in a philosophical but practical way. These stories are entertaining adventures first and examinations of the human nature a distant second, but that doesn’t make them less interesting to me, even to this day.

The worldbuilding aspect of Krynn is another interesting and often-debated topic. Although some see in the Dragonlance world the typical—and cliché—“template” of a post-Tolkien fantasy world, the subtle differences make Krynn stand apart. For example there are elves, yes, but they’re not the peaceful and wise forest-dwellers of The Lord of the Rings. Dragonlance elves do live in forests, it’s true, but they’re isolationists at best and, at worst, they’re decidedly xenophobic towards non-elves.

I could discuss the elements I love about Dragonlance for many more words, but I’ll stop here to invite you to start your own journey into Krynn. If you’re interested, I recommend that you start reading Dragons of Autumn and see whether the story hooks you or not. If you want to keep on reading, I’ll leave here my own “core reading list” for your use.

Dragonlance Core Reading List

  1. Dragonlance Chronicles. Three novels including:
    1. Dragons of Autumn,
    2. Dragons of Winter, and
    3. Dragons of Spring
  2. Dragonlance Legends. The sequel trilogy to the Chronicles, it centers on the twins Caramon and Raistlin Majere. In spite of being sequels, I think these are some of the best novels ever written set on the world of Krynn. They include:
    1. Time of the Twins,
    2. War of the Twins, and
    3. Test of the Twins
  3. The Second Generation. A sequel to the Legends, these are five short novellas detailing the origins of the descendants of the protagonists of the Chronicles and Legends. Some people don’t like the new heroes introduced here, but I think they’re quite interesting in their own way.
  4. Dragons of a Summer Flame. A sequel to The Second Generation, this huge novel details the cataclysmic events around a new enemy that threatens the world of Krynn. Very hit-and-miss among the fans, it introduces a new era for Dragonlance with a lot of changes.
  5. The War of Souls. This new trilogy acts a sequel to Dragons of a Summer Flame and it represents the last fiction Weis & Hickman wrote together for Dragonlance. There are many novels and stories between Summer Flame and this trilogy, but I do NOT recommend them. This trilogy includes:
    1. Dragons of a Fallen Sun,
    2. Dragons of a Lost Star, and
    3. Dragons of a Vanished Moon

Why I Love: The Dragonlance Setting

Mainly because it was the first setting for the first adventures I ever run back in 2000. But, nostalgia aside, I consider Ansalon—the main continent in the Dragonlance setting—to be a place perfect for D&D adventures. Although many of its detractors say that Krynn contains only “one story to play” (that of the War of the Lance, which is at the center of the original adventures and novels), I consider that to be nothing further from my own experience. In almost 20 running adventures in the setting, the only I time I’ve run the War of the Lance proper was a couple of years ago.

That is why, in my opinion, the Dragonlance setting offers as many options as any other setting when it comes to developing your own adventures there along with some friends. What makes it different, however, is the sense of verisimilitude that adventures in Krynn offer, in my opinion. Whereas other settings offer high magic that turns every character into a weird humanoid or a distinctly NOT medieval setting, Dragonlance sits at a comfortable middle. There’s magic in Krynn, yes, but it is often feared and sometimes even dangerous to perform. There are various humanoid races, yes—including some weird ones, as well—but they all have a place and reason to exist in this fantasy world.

In this sense, Dragonlance can provide you with the closest experience to play something with the feeling of an epic fantasy novel like The Lord of the Rings without actually having to play in Tolkien’s Middle-earth. This offers you an important freedom when it comes to alter the world story to your preferences and, what’s especially important, it allows you to run adventures and to know more about the world than your players without having to read much.

As such, I’ll recommend that, if you’re interested in running RPG adventures in a fantasy setting, you do so in the Dragonlance world—and, more specifically, in the continent of Ansalon after the events portray in The War of Souls trilogy. In spite of what may appear, you don’t need to read anything except for the Dragonlance Campaign Setting (DLCS), which you can find in .pdf here. Since you’ll be setting the adventures in a place and time that most people that know about Dragonlance know little or nothing about, you’ll have advantage to be the one that knows more about the setting. If you like what you find in the DLCS, I recommend that you take a look at Age of Mortals, a book that details and expands the information presented in the DLCS. In each case, of course, you’ll have to ignore the information about rules and game mechanics (unless that you’re running a D&D 3.x game, that is).

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This entry was published thanks to contributions by Paulette Rompeltien, Marley Clevenger, María Consuelo Gómez Martín, Alberto Peña, and all my other wonderful patrons.

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