Thursday, 6 November 2008

A Shadow From The Past

Something horrible has happened to me. Something strange and terrifying. A powerful, atavistic urge that I can feel throbbing through the marrow of my bones and pulsating in the root of my brain-stem has taken control of my psyche; it is a deep primal need that knows only one way to be quenched. Yes, I want to re-read the Dragonlance books.

I put it down to being a sucker for a good quest. Part of being a fantasy literature snob is that I am no longer supposed to have any time for anything so prosaic, but at the core of all fantasy literature snobs is an adolescent dreamer trying to get out - and occasionally I have to let mine out to revel in some good old fashioned questing. This time, I'm going to let him feast on the 'goodness' (ahem) that is Tanis and co's jaunt across Krynn.

One shouldn't underestimate the weird power that Dragonlance exerted over fantasy roleplaying games in general and D&D in particular, especially when I first started playing. Everybody in the gaming groups I was involved in had read both 'canon' trilogies, and were intimately familiar with their characters and plots. We created poor carbon copies of Tanis, Cameron, Raistlin and Tas for our games. We fantasised about everliving and everyouthful elven maidens with delicate features and plunging cleavages. We envisaged huge armies of dragonriders clashing in the sky. And we desperately wanted to emulate such things in our games.

More than that, we wanted to emulate the sweeping, world-changing plot arc. For us, killing things and taking their stuff just didn't cut it; nor did tomb-plundering and exploration. No - what we wanted was meaning. We wanted to trek across continents on a grand mission to resurrect forgotten gods. We wanted to smite evil and restore balance to the universe. We wanted to bring back magic to the world. Of course this desire sprung from deeper wells than just Dragonlance, but Weiss and Hickman have to take the lion's share of the blame.

The thing was, in the final analysis what we were never able to introduce into our games was a sensible plot. Although grand questing was what we wanted, our gaming pretty much always devolved into murder, looting and mayhem of the bleakest kind - purposeless death and killing, and the hoarding of vast wealth for no reason other than pure avarice. It was all deeply unsatisfactory when compared to the wonderful purity of vision which the Dragonlance Chronicles afforded; the series was like the Platonic ideal form of what a D&D adventuring party and a D&D campaign should be, impossible to attain but always just within reach - tempting us.

I've grown up now of course, and think I prefer the down and dirty misery of proper D&D. But the adolescent dreamer still has to get his time out in the exercise yard every now and again. There's no conclusion to this rather rambling entry other than that.


  1. Meh... I liked the first book a lot, afterward, not so much. Dragonlance also gave the world the kender, which while fun in literature, make me want to reach for my wandering damage table when I have to DM for one as a PC.

  2. Bigfella: Don't get me wrong; Dragonlance is basically just awful fluff. But it does entertain.

    With you on the kender though.

  3. Back in the day I was a huge DL fan. I actually started re-reading Autumn Twilight over the summer after watching the animated film (which had caught my eye on DVD). Still pretty good in my mind, and innovative when it first came out, although with hindsight it was the first step in moving A/D&D away from its roots and towards what it has now become.

  4. Joseph: How was the animated film? I heard terrible things about it.

  5. Not all books work very well when one is not kid/adolescent.

    Dragonlance books are among these, as are everything by Eddings (David and Leigh), IMO.

    (Kender, tinker gnomes and gully dwarves, OTOH, are excellent, in their own twisted way. As a draconians shooting down a dragon by using minotaur as ammo for a catapult.)

  6. Thanuir: You're right, of course. I liked Eddings back in the day, but can barely stand to read his books now.

  7. I've had an ongoing desire, one that rears its head from time to time over the years, to run the entire DL series of modules as an "alternate history of the War of the Lance." Rather than use the iconic characters, I'd run a party of player-made characters through the events of the modules and try to avoid the well-laid railroad tracks of the metaplot. I'd even want to start the game off in someplace other than Solace -perhaps the town down the way where the Theocrat's is from (the name of which escapes me at the momement).

    The problems with such a grandiose plane are numerous. Obviously Goldmoon would have to be involved at the very beginning and the party could easily jump off the rails after the first module - by deciding to say raise an motley army of elves and mercenaries to attack Pax Tharkas rather than slip in through the catacombs - but it'd be a fun experiment. A real tough referee's job, but the results might be well worth the effort. Yet another thing to file under dream projects that will most likely never see the light of day...

  8. Mike: It would still be interesting to run a War of the Lance game entirely off canon - taking a group of new characters from the initial starting point and seeing where they go. You could improvise quite a fun campaign even without the modules.

  9. We created poor carbon copies of Tanis, Cameron, Raistlin and Tas for our games.
    A substandard copy of Tasslehoff Burrfoot is far to horrible to imagine.

  10. Kelvin: Are you trying to say you don't like Tasselhoff Burfoot?


  11. You could improvise quite a fun campaign even without the modules.

    True, but I think I'd get more enjoyment watching them confront and then smash the sacred cows of the module more than my own take on the setting. :-)

  12. Ahhh... the movie.

    I should probably write a full-blown review on my blog. Short version:

    Not awful by any stretch, but hardly a faithful adaptation of the book. Sturm is completely missing, for example, and much was left out by necessity. The mixing of CGI with traditional animation is something I have always despised, and with every Draconian being (poorly, IMHO) CGI'd it was an enormous distraction. The dragons themselves were very well done.

    I think I would have liked it more if I had not read the book and been making subconscious comparisons. As fantasy animation goes, it wasn't terrible. Maybe three stars out of five. I would watch a sequel if they made it.

    I should add that my wife liked it and daughter (age 7) absolutely loved it.