Creator of Dragonlance

Archived from the Dragonlance-L mailing list, February 16, 2001.

[On February 13, Michael Falconer had written “So why is it that, were I to suggest that Dragonlance is Tracy Hickman’s world, I would get flamed anywhere on the net? How is this different?” Matt A. Lynch responded with his take on it, and TRH himself stepped in to set the story straight once and for all. Here is that famous post.]


Greetings Dragonlancers;

I find it amusing that no one has asked ME what my involvement was in creating Dragonlance. 😉

I don’t know where Matt gets these ideas … it is accurate in some details … inaccurate in many. Let me try my best to clarify the record as I remember it. You will find my comments below:

Because Hickman didn’t create the world as DragonLance. He wrote the original mod and a couple others, I believe, but there was never a sense of it being the beginnings of a world of any kind.

(TRH) This is inaccurate. The original concept for what would become Dragonlance was mine. In the spring of 1982, I believe it was, I had been hired by TSR, Inc. to become their newest Game Designer. While driving my family across country from Logan, Utah to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin in our VW Rabbit, I passed the time talking with my wife Laura about what new project we might bring to the company. I had been out of work in Logan for about six months, on Church Welfare, and the prospect of going back to work at a creative job had me excited. I wanted to justify the company hiring me by bringing something new to them. It was during that trip that the concept for Dragonlance was born.

He sold them as one-shot AD&D (1st Ed.) adventures (illegally, I might add), until he was caught. To avoid a big legal battle, he sold all of the adventures and all the rights to TSR. Some of the stuff they kept, the rest they ditched.

(TRH) Please excuse me but this is not only inaccurate, it is laughable. The adventure modules referred to here can only be ‘Rahasia,’ ‘Pharaoh’ and ‘Ravenloft.’ ‘Rahasia’ and ‘Pharaoh’ were finished by both my wife and I which we jointly self published. While their original legality may be of some dispute there was never any protest offered by TSR and certainly no ‘big legal battle’. Quite the contrary: Mike Gray, a senior designer for TSR at the time, had purchased them. He was so impressed with the work that he insisted that TSR HIRE me. Each of those modules was produced, nothing was ‘ditched.’ Rahasia became a module for RPG network and later was distributed as a Basic D&D module. Pharaoh became the first module (I3) in the ‘Desert of Desolation’ series. ‘Ravenloft’ … our best work … has become a classic of adventure game design and founded an entire genre for the company. There was a forth work to which I had produced covers but had not yet done any game design. It was called ‘Eye of the Dragon.’ That design had never been completed beyond initial draft maps and was never part of any contract. Some of the founding ideas for it, however, did find their way into Dragonlance later on.

Soon afterwards, word came down that management wanted a series of modules that had, “more dragons,” as that’s what the fans were craving.

(TRH) This was the result of a large survey which TSR had commissioned. After considerable expense, the bottom line came down that (1) Dungeons & Dragons was the strength of our company (2) we had lots of dungeons but (3) we didn’t have enough dragons. Based on that, the call came from management for proposals on a series featuring dragons. The design my wife and I had talked about on the long trip out to Wisconsin fit the bill perfectly. I created one proposal which I named ‘Dragonlance’ (yes, the name came from me) and Doug Niles produced another proposal of his own. Mine was the one selected.

Dragons of Despair, the first module in the original DL* series, was reworked by Hickman into the beginning of a campaign epic.

(TRH) This is incorrect. Dragons of Despair was designed from scratch by me specifically for the epic and to the epic storyline. It was not based on any ‘first module’ or preexisting design.

A team was brought in to write successive modules and develop the budding world by making it not just another generic, non-Greyhawk series (they have/had the “Odyssey” series now in AD&D to play that role).

(TRH) I do not know this ‘Odyssey’ series. The actual series of events was this: Harold Johnson was my immediate boss by this time. Together we went to the artists (after business hours, meeting in Larry Elmore’s basement) and presented to them the initial story structure. We asked them to become involved in the initial design by contributing artwork to help sell the project. Next we brought together several of the ‘second string’ game designers and game editors to form the creative team. Harold and I were good friends at the time and worked closely on the project … this would later change as our diverging views of Dragonlance would become manifest. Eventually it would bring about an end to that friendship … something which still saddens me. Nevertheless, the outline of Krynn’s history from the first ages through the cataclysm, the geography and cartography of Ansalon, the climate, sociological development, spread of civilization, ancient heroes and legends … that was done primarily by me and by my own hand. As the project developed more and more people came in and contributed to it. Their work was invaluable and to a large extent remains unsung. There was an occasional challenge to just who it was that was ‘running’ dragonlance. Ultimately (at least so long as I was at the company), that was recognized as being me … the guy who had started it all in the first place.

Along the way, someone was able to talk the ever-cautious TSR management into allowing a book series to be published at the same time. Books for AD&D-based products had never done well, so TSR was very hesitant.

(TRH) That’s not entirely true. The entire project was ‘approved’ by the company after a ‘dog-and-pony show’ we put on specifically for that purpose. The truth is that I had privately gone around with the proposal to each of the department heads the week before the meeting and gotten their assurance of support before the meeting ever began. The meeting was simply a means of ratifying the event and letting everyone else know that everyone was onboard. That meeting included product proposals in support of Dragonlance. At that time, TSR was into many different things and growth was unlimited. There were proposals in that presentation for DL miniatures, for DL board games, for DL beach towels and even for a mechanical wind up Tiamat (?!). Part of those original proposals included a series of fantasy novels by the book department. You must know that at this time books department at TSR was ONLY producing Endless Quest / Pick-a-path books. The idea of producing a serious novel was not part of their mission, but the proposal was part of our plan. These books were supposed to be only an incidental supporting product to the all important games. I remember Gary Gygax (of whom I was very much in awe) standing at the end of the presentation and saying ‘This is EXACTLY what we should be doing.’

(That’s why Dragons of Autumn Twilight was written as potentially a one-shot deal; note that there are no mentions of the dragonarmies or their continuing war against Ansalon and Verminaard, not Ariakas, is the chief villain.)

(TRH) This is true. Books was not sure there would be more than one book as this was entirely new territory for them. The story of how Margaret single-handedly managed to get the books into B. Dalton bookstores is a wonderful one and one which I hope she’ll share with you sometime.

Luckily, both the modules and the books sold well, so they allowed the book series to continue.

(TRH) An interesting side note is that this was not immediately evident. There was a movement inside the company to kill the entire Dragonlance project after the first three modules and the novel were in release. I took a week off of my scheduled design work, compiled the figures and produced and circulated a report which proved that not only did Dragonlance modules initially sell every bit as well as other modules, but that their after sale reorders dramatically outperformed any other product then in release. There was no talk of killing the project after that.

Initially, Weis and Hickman weren’t even the novel writers. TSR selected someone or another, but the design team, IIRC, kept not liking how it was going. Hickman was chosen, along with Weis (then an editor) to help him on the literary end of things.

(TRH) This is mostly true although the people who didn’t like how it was going were actually Margaret and I. Margaret came to me and said ‘This is our story … our characters … we’re the only ones who understand them. We have to write this.” So, on our own time over a single weekend, we wrote the prologue and the first five chapters of what would eventually become Autumn Twilight. It was based on the strength of those chapters that Jean Blashfield-Black, then senior editor in charge of books, made the determination to pay off the previously contracted writer and have Margaret and I write those books.

Hickman fathered the seeds that would become DragonLance, but it was only with the help of Harold “Wisconsin” Johnson that the line was made into a fledgling world.

(TRH) Harold made his contribution but no more so than many other people. There is a personal dynamic here with Harold that is difficult to explain briefly. Harold and I worked closely together at the start of Dragonlance but our visions diverged along the way. Harold’s contribution was great … but no greater than a dozen others I can think of, many of whose names are no longer generally known among us.

He conceived the world, sold it to TSR, wrote the original modules,

He didn’t write all the original modules. Take a look back; he actually wrote very few.

(TRH) It would be more accurate to say that I wrote more Dragonlance modules than any other designer.

…co-wrote the original novels that made it famous… So in that sense I think it’s plain that at least in some sense he is the Creator of Dragonlance.

Yup. Him, though, not Weis. Most of the people I see lash out on this issue do so because the target claims, inaccurately, that Hickman AND Weis created DL.

(TRH) May I step up to the plate here for Margaret. Without Margaret and her incredible writing skills, there would not be a Dragonlance for us to debate here today. Just after Autumn Twilight was released was a critical time for Dragonlance. We had been trying to write novels to game designed prior to this point … a situation which simply was not working. I’ve mentioned this in Annotated Chronicles but I’ll mention it again here: Autumn Twilight feels stiff and has a HUGE group of characters tromping around the story. It was not until Winter Night … when Margaret and I were free to write the novel BEFORE the game design … that Dragonlance really started to work. Whenever the story has driven the game design, Dragonlance has worked. I may have come up with the world and basic story, others may have made great contributions to that as well but Margaret’s magic breathed life into the world and characters. She made the world real. She is every bit as much the creator of this world and story as I am.

In fact, I think in one of the Chronicles, Weis thanks Tracy for “inviting her into his world” or something like that, which indicates to me that even among the team that designed the original products, they still had a sense that it was Tracy Hickman’s creation.

No doubt he was one of the driving forces, as was Johnson (who, I don’t think, works on that level anymore, thus his non-interaction with DL for the past 10 years or so, I think). Probably made the fan in him giddy that one of HIS ideas was being given the chance to become the next Greyhawk. Ravenloft was given the same treatment a few years later, but I don’t believe he was with TSR at the time, which was why he had no input beyond the original two mods in the creation of the Demiplane of Dread as a campaign world.

(TRH) You do not understand the situation with Harold so I’ll let that pass. As to the ‘fan boy’ remark, thanks for the slam … but it’s pretty obvious you don’t understand me very well, either … nor apparently the situation in the company when we all worked so hard to create this project.

Not really going anywhere with this, it’s pretty academic, just wondering what people think. I was reading a FAQ on the Nexus and it said something along the lines of “MW and TH did **NOT** create DL”, which seems pretty extreme in my opinion.

They didn’t. It’s a fact.

(TRH) No. It’s not. I was there. I know. I wonder who you’ve been listening to, Matt.

Sure, a *lot* of other people have worked on Dragonlance, and some products turned out good, some bad, but that doesn’t change my view, which I think is valid as any other (and I’m not saying there is a right or wrong)…To me, Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis created Dragonlance.

Created is a tough word to use correctly in this sense. Did they give the world its flavor with the initial trilogy? Definitely. Did they breathe life into the characters the world is constantly associated with? Damn right, they did. Were they responsible for giving us a reason to keep reading? Probably. But, did the two of them together, come up with the idea of Krynn? No. It’s as simple as that.

(TRH) I don’t know where you get this, Matt. I came up with the world, theme and design. Margaret and I wrote the books. I wrote more of the initial modules than anyone else. No two other people have done as much for Dragonlance, worked harder for Dragonlance, wept more for Dragonlance nor sacrificed as much for Dragonlance and Margaret and I have. Did we benefit from it? Absolutely … but for every benefit we got we paid for it – ounce for ounce – in ways you cannot know.

Is the world ours? No. Dragonlance is owned by Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro to do with as they will … but the idea of Krynn begins with us, and to think any differently would be very wrong indeed. I know … I was there.

Tracy Hickman

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About Tracy Hickman

Dragonlance originators Tracy and Laura Hickman have been publishing game designs and stories together for over thirty-two years - nearly as long as their marriage - and thus started them both on a life of adventure and imagination. Tracy is a New York Times best-selling co-author (with Margaret Weis) of many Dragonlance novels including the original "Dragonlance Chronicles", "Dragonlance Legends", "Rose of the Prophet" and "Darksword" trilogies as well as the seven-book "Deathgate Cycle". Tracy and Laura are remembered together for their role-playing game designs in "Dragonlance" and the "Oasis of the White Palm" series but are perhaps best known for their classic adventure, the original "Ravenloft." For more information on Tracy, visit his website at http://www.trhickman.com/.
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