Monday, August 1, 2011

Dragons of Summer Boredom

Haha, sooooooo, I went and bought myself a Dragonlance module? *ducks tomatoes*

Alright alright alright, lemme back up and justify, here.

Even back in the distant, primordial days of the early 90s, the setting wars were already in full swing. I got turned on to the Forgotten Realms grey box, and therefore was held in sneering contempt by the Dragonlance partisans at the local gaming store. (Meanwhile the Greyhawk holdouts looked on, shaking their heads knowingly and writing angry Usenet posts about Carl Sargent.) And, for my money, DL quickly became the clear harbinger of all that was wrong with 90s (A)D&D. (Never mind that the 2e Realms supplements would soon establish their own list of crimes, more concerned with OCD-inspired meticulous setting detail (read baggage) than the railroady plotwagon excesses of Dragonlance.)

Well, it's a lot of years later, and thanks to the internet I'm all too familiar with the atrocities of Lorraine and the Blumes in the 80s, and while I can see where it's tempting to find a scapegoat for the fall of the golden age, the Realms still don't fit. (See THIS blogpost for a good list of reasons why. ) But the meme still persists, no matter how ill-placed and uninformed the arguments.

So if the 'Hawk diehards are (passionately, heart-breakingly) wrong about FR, it follows that I may have judged Dragonlance a bit harshly as well. I've always enjoyed the fiction (the stuff by Weiss & Hickman, at least - let's ignore Sturm & Kit's moon trip and all that crazy shit), although I'll still maintain that good fiction is often anathema to good gaming. The glut of 2e-style setting supplements and later modules always turned me off, but reading through the 1e Dragonlance Adventures hardcover describes an intriguing (finely-tuned for the desired effect) AD&D setting. So when I had the chance to pick up a used (near-mint) copy of DL1 Dragons of Despair at the friendly local, I went for it. (They have the whole original run, from what I can tell, but I'm not THAT invested quite yet.) The question is: Can this series be run as a "real" campaign, with players who may or may not have read the fiction (probably not), and who don't have any special pre-formed attachment to the setting? And without the rails on? I don't know, yet.

So far, I can at least vouch that DL1 contains a wilderness hexmap (high marks for usefulness), and some interesting encounters. Seems like you could have a good time with the material as presented, and if you were willing to spin some BS should the PCs employ "lateral thinking" (i.e., having the attention span of a cross between a housecat and a superball, like all PCs), things should work out. (I do have the hardcover and a map, I flatter myself that I've got the DM chops to make something interesting out of an aborted run at the "plot", should it come to it.) The question is, does this play out once you're a module or two "deep", and the PCs have had more chances to "rewrite the script"? (Guess I'm gonna have to pick up the next one and see.)

At the very least it's something to read.


P.S.: And apparently the cover art above is actually by Clyde Caldwell, not Larry Elmore? I never knew. Suppose I should've guessed, what with the distinct lack of almond eyes and boobies.


  1. I'd be interested in trying something like that, too. My friends and I all digested the books, even as they got crappier and crappier as other writers kept pumping out more volumes.

    But when my cousin bought a couple of the modules, we were all disappointed to learn that we couldn't take it off the rails, and would be expected to just follow the plot of the books exactly. Not how we wanted to spend our time.

    I think trying it out with a group of people mostly unfamiliar with the books, or who read them a long time ago and don't remember all of the details, it could be fun. Good luck!

    [And I had always thought it was Elmore, too, but now I realize that's a definite Caldwell dragon.]



  3. I should clarify that I'm not actually gonna be running this or anything like it anytime soon (I've already got 3 games on the burners as it is, and music, and school, and the garden, and, and, and), this is just me reading this stuff critically with an open mind and seeing if it's really as bad as all that. Like, "could we have fun with this, and would I be doing more work than just using homebrew".

    - DYA

  4. The glossy-shiny should have tipped you off to it being Caldwell. ;) Elmore did a lot of art for DL, and most especially the novel covers, but I think Caldwell and Parkinson did a lot of the module covers.

  5. "At least it's something to read."

    True... true...

    I really tried to like that cover back when the module came out. I tried.