My On-Off Relationship with Dragonlance, Part 2 [Gaming]

Last week, I discussed how Dragonlance was my on-ramp to fantasy.

I read Dragonlance novels through middle school, diving into the second and third tier series—partly because I didn’t know any better. I was an only child, and most of my friends were more interested in playing Doom or Rise of the Triad than reading fantasy novels. As a result, I didn’t know all the amazing fantasy literature I was missing. I stuck with what I knew, and tore through the books (sometimes literally), until around seventh grade, I discovered “mudding.”

MUDs (multi-user dungeons), the nascent form MMORPGs, sucked me in throughout 7th and 8th grade, and through a good portion of high school. In my thirteen-year-old mind, this was what the Internet was for. Well, that and a few other illicit things. I played furiously for a couple years, until rage-quitting over something or other. I probably got killed, lost my gear, and looked at the “Time Played: 15 days, 17 hours, 23 minutes” on my character and decided that was enough. I gave up the MUD, and I gave up Dragonlance novels, in favor of girls, sports, music, and a slue of other extracurricular activities.

But it was not to last. I experienced pangs of withdrawal. The Dragonlance setting was familiar, an old friend I’d grown up with. By now, I’d convinced several of my friends to play, and they urged me to rejoin. So it went for the next ten years. Rejoin, quit. Rejoin, quit. With the exception of a brief stint playing Spellfire using Dragonlance cards, this was the extent of my interaction with the setting. I never learned to play 1st or 2nd Edition, D&D.  I had no older brother to teach me. Although I accumulated a prolific collection of the DL modules series and various supplementary Dragonlance material, I had no idea what to do with it. The books languished for several years until my entrepreneurial high school self got it in his head to sell the books on this great new website, Ebay. I made about one-hundred and fifty bucks. And that was the end of my Dragonlance collection.

Aside from periodic “mudding” relapses, Dragonlance remained dormant in my life until I got my job at Wizards. I think if my ten-year-old self could peer ahead twenty years, and see the proximity to which I was working on the beloved brand of my youth, he would flip out. But despite working on Dungeons & Dragons, I never had much desire or opportunity to work on Dragonlance. Aside from the trickle of novels, the setting didn’t get much attention from R&D.

A few months ago, I decided to change that. Maybe my 30th birthday was making me nostalgic for the days when I could play a Dragonlance computer game for 10 hours straight, or read a novel over the course of a lazy summer weekend. Or, perhaps the imminent 30th anniversary of the brand was stirring up memories. Whatever the case, I proposed adding some Dragonlance-themed articles to our Dragon and Dungeon line up. I also decided to reread the novels. Some people say the novels haven’t aged well. I never really minded. Dragonlance delivers some of the most iconic characters that appear across the D&D brand. I still sympathize with Tanis’s and Raistlin’s struggles, feel heartache at the deaths of some characters, and exult in the triumphs of the Heroes of the Lance. All this Dragonlance got me to thinking about my own D&D game. I had concluded my Dark Sun game several months earlier, and I knew a number of folks who had never read Dragonlance, or played in a persistent D&D campaign. With a new iteration of the game on its way, I figured what better time to dive into the annuls of my youth to revisit the twisted Silvanesti woods, the barren Plains of Dust, the torrential Blood Sea of Istar, and the battles for the future of Krynn.

Now, three sessions into the game, the heroes are about to enter Xak Tsaroth. I’ve been using D&D Next rules, and despite a few hiccups, the game has gone swimmingly. I can’t say what’s ahead for the heroes (my players might be reading), but I intend to run things pretty close to the original DL module series. The War of the Lance continues to sell well for a reason. To many people, Dragonlance is just another setting, like Greyhawk or The Forgotten Realms. But for many of us, it’s a part of our youth—and nostalgia aside, there’s a great story to be told, and with the public playtest proceeding full steam ahead, now seems like a great time to revisit these old adventures.

About Greg Bilsland

Greg Bilsland is a producer for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast. His design credits include Monster Manual 2, Monster Manual 3, and Vor Rukoth. His current work involves coordinating the D&D Next playtest and helping plan D&D Insider and D&D organized play content. He keeps a gaming blog at wanderingbard.com and is active on Twitter (@gregbilsland).

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