Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bipolar Dragonlance

Maybe it's no surprise, seeing how the Dragonlance novels were cowritten, but reading through the Dragonlance Adventures hardback, I can't help but feel how disjointed the setting feels.

I read way too many of the novels back in the day. Even after teenage me noticed the drop in quality, I kept reading, hoping they'd get good again.* As novels, the setting didn't seem so dissonant. It felt internally consistent. But reading the descriptions of things in DLA, I'm really noticing it.

Elements of the setting, like the gods, Knights of Solamnia, Orders of High Sorcery, Order of the Stars clerics, the way half-elves are treated, the histories, etc. all seem to suggest an attempt at a serious setting where you can really get some good drama going from the conflicting elements of the society of Krynn. Especially when you consider that becoming a Knight of Solamnia (at least a Knight of the Crown) gets you nothing mechanically over being a Fighter, but lots of role play options and restrictions. Seems like you'd only sign up for that if you wanted to get into the head of a person trying to live up to the Oath and the Measure.

But then there are the Kender, Tinker Gnomes, Gully Dwarves. Sure, novels need moments of levity to break up the heavier sections of the text. D&D adventures can benefit from them, too. But in the setting, as presented in DLA, these options just seem like they shouldn't fit. Or at least, they shouldn't fit well as player character options. Well, maybe Kender. Despite the nearly universal hatred gamers have for Kender, I still think they could work. And there are examples of more serious Kender, who aren't Tasselhoff clones, that could be worked with, both in DLA and in some of the novels and game books.

Gnomes ONLY being allowed to be Tinkers, and Gully Dwarves in general, really seem like they would ruin the tone in an adventuring party otherwise devoted to rallying allies against the remnants of the dragon armies, or rebuilding the various nations ravaged by the wars, which is the presumed setting for the games using DLA (unless you want it as a reference for running the modules).

*Adult me is curious to read the "good ones" again and see if they really are that good or not. I'm guessing probably not.


  1. It really depends on where you set the bar for “good” fantasy fiction. The first novel is awful, in all the ways you might imagine a first time novel written by adventure module writers might be. The second and third start ignoring game conventions in favor of, you know, story and are markedly better, and the second trilogy (“Legends”) is pretty darn good...for pulp literature. I think it helps that those three weren’t tied to a line of adventures.

    I’ve blogged my thoughts on kender previously. They’re an attempt to break away from the hobbit paradigm but (IMO) kind of based on how halflings were often played in AD&D (i.e. as kleptomaniac little bastards). In a way, it’s a skewering of the game trope, but in play it’s annoying as hell. In fiction? Yes, funny, levity, comic relief, etc. At the game table? No. Just no.

  2. I've got similar feelings about DL. I must have been about 11, been playing D&D for a few years (trying to, we were still hazy on some of the rules so we ignored some) & loved them.

    I was the kind of reader who loved the Hobbit & Conan & Sci FI but found LOTR turgid & indulgent. I never could go back & reread them after my teens but I reread them a few times during that period. I actually shed a tear when Sturm died.

    If I were to run DL I'd have to edit it. I cannot stand Kender or Tinker Gnomes. Gully Dwarves just about tolerate- I seem to remember enjoying what they brought out in Raistlin & revealed about both his empathy, willingness to manipulate & sympathise etc.

    So I'd keep the elves, dwarves, conclave, minotaurs as a people not a magical creature, no clerical magic & just run adventures in that time. That's some classic D&D elements & some cool stuff- not 'edgy' by modern standards but some pretty solid D&D tropes used well enough to be interesting.

    I'd simply not have Kender or Tinker Gnomes. Kender are annoying. Never seen anyone not just play a Tasslehoff. Tinker Gnomes are steampunk, Spelljammer- not in my Krynn. But You can have Gully Dwarves filling some of that niche- small guys, overlooked, comedic sidekicks but there is more scope for pathos or tragedy or redemption with them due to their position as a DWarven race- their treatment or situation MEANS something to others (potentially). They can provoke an emotion from DWarves- shame, pity, empathy, anger, unity- all gameable stuff as well as the funny stuff. Maybe Gully DWarves in towns get called Kender.

    Taken at about Dragons of Autumn Twilight time, you can set in the decade pre war or the 10 years it's building up then, with it's post apocalyptic elements it hews pretty close to a Swords & Sorcery vibed campaign. Just stay Mandalorian level & don't go full epic with it.

  3. Dragonlance is what got me into D&D, for the most part... a chance stumbling upon of Time of the Twins at my local library when I was in elementary school.

    I also read tons of the novels, even the shittiest of them.

    (Weirdly enough, I never actually played Dragonlance as a campaign setting or owned any of the Dragonlance gaming books.)

    Sometimes I think about reading the main trilogy again as an adult, buuuuut... I think maybe I'll just remember them fondly.

  4. I disagree since there is no fantasy more highbrow than Tolkien's Middle Earth, and yet the same story which includes Sauron, Aragorn and the Noldor also includes Tom Bombadil, Hobbits and trolls that are too stupid to notice the sun rising as they argue. Furthermore, Frodo the Hobbit becoems the most heroic and tragic figure in the whole saga while the noble elf and dwarf pair provide many instances of comic relief (this was before elves became glittery emos and dwarves become drunken Scottish clerics)

  5. I think Reason's suggestiin to keep things "Mandalorean" level instead of the default DL "Skywalker" level is a good one. Matches my idea to run a sandbox of the various module dungeons and a few made up ones if I ever run DL.

    @Talifer - Again, the levity works in the novels, but it isn't a constant thing. Hobbits have their light moments and serious moments. So do Gimli and Legolas.

    Tinker gnomes are presented as constant comic relief. Also, I haven't heard of a Middle-Earth RPG that allows Bombadil as a PC option. :)