Competing for Time
I didn’t really get into details of why I chose to run Dragonlance. Aside from the setting being a staple of my youth (as described in several earlier posts), it’s an issue of practicality. A fundamental challenge with D&D is the time pressure it creates, particularly for DMs. In this era of 24-hour entertainment, with the ability to jump online to X-box Live any time, carving out time to both plan and play D&D is hard. I’m in graduate school right now, and it turns out my day job keeps me pretty busy. Without getting too far into the weeds of the WotC inner-workings—I can say this: I don’t get much time at work to keep up with the rules. Most of my time spent with the D&D Next materials occurs at home around 1 or 2 AM.
So, getting back to the question of why Dragonlance? I think it’s an issue relevant to any of us who are especially familiar with particular settings: ease of use. I am intimately familiar with the history of Krynn and the War of the Lance. That means minimal preparation time familiarizing myself with the world/adventure. That time can instead be spent keeping up with the rules, or coming up with cool hooks for the characters.
Reinventing the Classic Characters
As for characters—a lot of the criticism of Dragonlance comes from the idea that it tells just one story. It’s not exactly made for people that want a sandbox. In recruiting players for this game, I made it clear to all those involved that we’d be running the War of the Lance, so anyone familiar with the novels would “know what’s coming.”
Somewhat surprisingly, the three or four people who had read the books were okay with that. I think it shows that novelty in an adventure can be trumped by just having a great time playing fun characters and hanging out with friends.
I gave everyone the option of playing the Heroes of the Lance, but only one of my players, Dan, opted for this path (and ended up playing Tasslehoff, who almost died in the fourth session). That would have been awkward.
To make the party feel integrated into the story, I borrowed elements of the classic War of the Lance heroes and imparted them to the characters. [PLAYERS IN MY GAME AND PEOPLE INTENDING TO READ THE CHRONICLES BE WARNED: HERE BE SPOILERS]
I modeled one of the characters after Berem, the Green Gemstone man. The character hasn’t died yet, but I expect it will be interesting when he does.
Another character has elements of Sturm Brightblade‘s background—a family slain, dishonored. Trying to earn a place among the knights.
One character carries the Staff of Magius, and has the spirit of Fistandantilus in her head.
Another players is a hill dwarf of the Fireforge clan.
And then I’ve introduced some new elements, just to mix things up. For example, we have an ascetic from the Library in Palanthas who was an assistant to Astinus the Chronicler. There’s also a mountain dwarf with a royal (and draconic) bloodline, and potentially an heir to Kharas.
My takeaway from setting up this campaign is that Dragonlance doesn’t have to be the same old story. The players and the characters bring something unique to this epic tale of war. I think Dragonlance presents groups with the opportunity to play out a sweeping narrative arc, without the frequent problem of campaign burnout. I know where the stories going. I don’t have to spend hundreds of hours preparing my game. That means as a DM, I’m much more equipped to commit a year or two to finishing the campaign.
As for why D&D Next? It’s nothing really unique to Dragonlance. Sure, the magic system in the current playtest makes creating houserules for the phases of the moon more feasible. And yes, it means that the player characters can battle ten or twenty draconians and have it feel threatening without being a slog. Ultimately, though, it’s an issue of preparation. I can run those bare-bones AD&D Dragonlance modules off the cuff, with few modifications for D&D Next, and that’s satisfying as hell.