The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Galen Beknighted, by Michael Williams

First Impressions: The final book in the Preludes series, it’s the return of the Weasel! As I’ve said before, I did not enjoy Weasel’s Luck when I was younger, and so I’ve never read Galen Beknighted before. However, during this read-through, I found Weasel’s Luck unexpectedly enjoyable, and so I was keen to dive into the sequel and find out what Galen Pathwarden and his awful family get up to next! There were two covers to this book: the original 1990s Jeff Easley cover has a hilarious picture of Galen and his lady love Dannelle falling off a rearing horse, which captures the tone of the book perfectly. The reprint cover by Duane O. Myers is more accurate to the plot, but also has much less personality – I much prefer the old cover. (A theme, I’ve noticed!)

Plot Summary: Three years later after defeating the Scorpion, Galen Pathwarden is about to become a Knight of the Crown, although he’s not doing a very good job of living up to his new ideals. During his vigil, he has a vision of his hermit brother Brithelm being kidnapped and agrees to ransom him from Firebrand, the leader of a tribe of underground Plainsmen in exchange for the opals with which the Scorpion had bribed him years ago. He is accompanied by motley companions: his sometimes lady love Dannelle, his brother Alfric, the blind jester Shardos, and the gluttonous Sir Ramiro. Meanwhile, the rest of the supporting cast, led by Galen’s injured mentor Sir Bayard Brightblade, venture into tunnels under the castle to discover the source of the earthquakes shaking the castle. Firebrand wants the opals to complete a magic crown that will give him power over life and death, but everyone is being manipulated to awaken Tellus, a great continental serpent who is responsible for the earthquakes. Eventually Galen defeats Firebrand, Tellus is drowned when the caverns are flooded, and the plainsfolk return to the surface to be reunited with their people.

Review: This is an interesting but ultimately lesser sequel to Weasel’s Luck. While still funny, it’s a much more mature book: this is best exemplified by how several characters die, with considerable emotional impact. Thematically, it’s a story about memory: both Galen and Firebrand are outcasts who want to put their pasts behind them. Several other characters have to grapple with their memories as well: a story about a crazy cat lady becomes truly horrific, while one of the new comedy knights, the greatest marksman in the world, has to deal with the truth of the one shot he missed.  

The central problem is that Galen fundamentally completed his story arc in that book: he went from being a cowardly rogue into a (somewhat) more altruistic character. Here, the book is keen to point out that he hasn’t changed entirely, but he’s trying to be a good person. The problem is that he’s simply a less interesting protagonist as a result. I wonder if Michael Williams found that too, since a large part of the book drops Galen’s first-person narration and instead uses the third-person to follow different narrative threads, giving us Firebrand’s perspective and the characters back at Castle di Caela. I found this switching of narrative person and voice awkward and didn’t care for it. 

As for our look at diversity, the Plainsmen were quite stereotypical and in need of a white saviour, but they were generally cast sympathetically and had a complex society, so I think we’ll call it a wash. I was a bit surprised what so many Plainsmen were doing up in Solamnia, when they’ve previously lived further south in Abanasinia, but that’s not a big deal. Women didn’t do so well this time around, though: I had high hopes when Danelle insisted on accompanying Galen on his quest, but she was a bit of a straw-man feminist, all talk and no action. The new character of slutty cousin Marigold was fairly awful too, but also quite funny with her obscene pastries and ridiculous hairstyles. I did laugh out loud when she emerged from the caverns hair (in the shape of a sailing ship) first – it was a great image.

Continuity: Galen Beknighted is set in 231 A.C, 120 years before the main series. Its plot is a reference to The Legend of Huma: at the end of that book, the evil gods and dragons were banished ‘as long as the world is whole.’ Sargonnas, the evil god of vengeance, wants Tellus to cause a giant continental earthquake that would leave the world broken. It’s a little odd, because the whole point Richard A. Knaak wording the oath that way is because in between Huma’s time and the modern day, the world was broken during the Cataclysm and Takhisis has already re-entered the world and is slowly getting ready for the War of the Lance.

Shardos the blind bard has a lot of similarities with Fizban from the Chronicles trilogy. While Fizban liked to reference twenty-four-gun salutes and other things outside of Krynn, Shardos references future events that haven’t happened yet, like the events of the Chronicles and Legends trilogies. Although it’s never made explicit in the book, I think it’s safe to infer that Shardos, like Fizban, is secretly the avatar of one of the Gods of Good.

Final Summary: Galen Beknighted is a deeper book than its predecessor, but less charming in the process. I liked it, but I think people who didn’t like Weasel’s Luck won’t care for it either, and those who enjoyed the humour of Weasel’s Luck may be put off by the more serious tone here. I give it two disks of Mishakal out of five.

In the UK, Australia and New Zealand, this was the final Dragonlance book printed by Penguin Books, so this feels like an appropriate place for me to stop for now. Next time, I’m going to do a retrospective of the first year of reading, spanning twenty-one novels, three pick-a-path gamebooks, thirty-four comics and one almanack. See you then!

SBG Fortnightly Update #4

Hunting with the Queen in Her Jentle Hi-ness

Well hello there! So since I wrote last, there have been a few blog posts here and there, mostly James’s content. We have another one of his coming up, and then a little look back over Dragonlance so far after that. As for myself, I managed to get the Alpha V2 of Her Jentle Hi-ness out to backers last week, a couple of days sooner than planned, which signals to me that I have finally got my scheduling down after months of struggling to get it right. There are lots of little bugs to fix, and I need to run through many tests to get it right. This game might actually be a whole lot bigger than either of my preceeding games. No wonder I have been feeling overwhelmed!

You might have noticed other bits of content have slowed right down. While trying to finish of Her Jentle Hi-ness, we’ve decided not to do the podcast, and I haven’t been updating the pokemon blog either. We’ll see how quickly, if at all, those things start again once the game is released. This whole mad hustle to do and be everything is a little soul destroying. Sorry if you were a loyal follower of either of these and want them back. Maybe in time, we’ll have the energy again.

Not a lot else to say! I’m just going to keep my head down and keep on working on making this game the best I can make it. See you in a fortnight!

Dragons of Tirenia: The Story So Far (Updated)

Ok so I don’t know about you but I LOVE this post. If you’re curious as to how all our campaigns in this world have been fitting together, James has made an updated timeline that lays it all out very clearly! Enjoy here:

Image: ‘Journey of the Magi.’ Benozzo Gozzoli, c. 1460.

Dragons of Tirenia: The Giant’s Tomb

Just another little cross-post of James’s blog 🙂

He ran a short session for the library the other day, and it was really quite exciting! Dragon player characters, the threat of giants returning… all very good ingredients for a thrilling adventure. Check it out here:

Image: The Lion Gate at Mycenae. Wikipedia, 2019

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – The Gates of Thorbardin, by Dan Parkinson

First Impressions: First published 1990, this book is unique amongst the Heroes II trilogy for being a thematic rather than literal sequel to Stormblade, its corresponding book in the first Heroes trilogy, and the only one by a different author. Was TSR unhappy with Nancy Varian Berberick or Stormblade, or was she just busy and unable to return? 

Once again there are two covers to this book. The first, by Jeff Easley, is my favourite for actually showing things from the book, the helmet and the ghost, though Chane’s weird non-beard is strange. It’s actually a plot point that he has a beard! The second by Duane O. Myers, is a lovely picture of a gate to a dwarven kingdom, but I find it unlikely that a hidden secret gate would have giant statues guarding it! Let’s call it a tie.

Before we get started, a note: I’m going to try a slightly different style this time. I’ve noticed that my plot summaries have been getting quite long, so I’m going to give a much more general overview of the plot from now on. Also, I’ve been finding it hard at times to split my thoughts into what I felt about a book into positives and negatives. Sometimes I’d like to start with the negatives (Flint the King!) while sometimes I’d like to be able to talk about good and bad all at once. So I’m also going to be collapsing both those sections into one Review section from now on.

Plot Summary: Chane Feldstone has been having strange dreams all his life, but now they’re telling him to leave the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin and go find the lost Helm of Grallen. This magical macguffin headwear, worn by the prince who died during the Dwarfgate Wars (and was also Chane’s secret ancestor) reveals the location of a hidden entrance to Thorbardin. He needs to find it to stop Kolanda Darkmoor from leading an army of goblins to invade Thorbardin through the same secret entrance. Chane finds the hidden Waykeep Valley, where in ancient days the magic Greygem was imprisoned and a war was fought over it. He assembles a band of followers, including his strangely deadly fiancée, a kender, a gnome in a flying machine that can’t land, an unexploded spell, a mysterious wizard, and a mountain man. They find the Helmet and the tunnel, which collapses during their final confrontation with Kolanda’s forces. The goblin army is defeated, Kolanda dies, and everyone returns home to live happily ever after. 

Review: This was another rather mediocre book, but to my surprise I quite enjoyed it! The plot was rather simple – ‘find the thing’ – but it worked. None of the excessively large cast had much depth, but they all worked too. I quite liked Bobbin, the ‘mad’ gnome who has built an aircraft that can fly but can’t land, who spends the whole book stuck up in his airplane, occasionally flying by to lower a basket and ask for raisins to eat. The love interest, Jilian, was at turns enjoyable and ridiculous. Once again, she’s the most beautiful woman ever, but her can-do attitude and improbable fighting skills (she holds a sword and spins out of control really, really fast) made her the most proactive and capable female Dragonlance character not created by Weis and Hickman so far. The villains, Kolanda and Caliban, had a fascinating relationship too, with the lich-like Caliban leeching life from Kolanda in exchange for helping her achieve her goals. The image at the end of her riding into battle bare-breasted, so that Caliban’s withered heart can sit over hers and draw power directly from her heart in the final battle, was bizarre but oddly effective. I did feel like they didn’t have much development or personal stakes with what was going on. Zap, the sentient unexploded spell, was also a fascinating concept, though just annoying for most of the book. Likewise, the different plot elements with the Greygem and the Dwarfgate War really tied what was going into the mythic history of Krynn, although at times they could feel disjointed from the main narrative. I also found some of the jokes didn’t really land, especially some of the anachronistic ones like the reference to the chicken crossing the road, or the dwarven women’s aerobics club – but then I liked the airplane, so go figure.

Continuity: According to the Dragonlance wiki, this book is set in 339 A.C., twelve years before the War of the Lance. It’s inspired by events in Dragons of Hope, the third Dungeons & Dragons adventure. In it, the Heroes of the Lance have to find the Helm of Grallen to reveal the hidden way to Thorbardin. That story was left out of the original Chronicles trilogy, leading to its adaptation here. Eventually, Weis and Hickman would cover the missing part of the story in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths (2006). In it, Sturm finds the Helm of Grallen, and in the process renders this entire book non-canon.

The Greygem of Gargath is a fairly prominent part of Dragonlance’s mythology. It is, as originally conceived, the means by which magic came to Krynn, and many of the various peoples and monsters created. It last appeared in Wanna Bet!, Weis and Hickman’s short story in Kender, Gully Dwarves and Gnomes. It will appear again in the backstory of Kindred Spirits (1991), before being central to the plot of Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

Meanwhile, this book must have been well-received at the time, because Dan Parkinson was soon brought back to write the Dwarven Nations Trilogy in 1993.

Final Summary: The Gates of Thorbardin is objectively not a great book, but it’s endearingly not great. Many of its ideas are better than their execution. It gets 2.5 Disks of Mishakal, but it’s a high 2.5 Disks, almost a 3. 

I hope everyone had a merry Christmas. I’ll be starting the new year with Galen Beknighted, the last book of the trilogy. I’ve never actually read it before, and after I found myself thoroughly enjoying Weasel’s Luck, I’ve been looking forward to this ever since. See you then!

(Editor’s Note – Apologies! James actually had this written up two weeks ago, but between finishing the alpha build and running after a toddler in Auckland’s hottest summer in ages, it’s been at the bottom of the list. But now we’ll get back to it, as James has another one coming soon, and a retrospective on a year of Dragonlance! – Claire)

The End of ‘The Ruins of Auromia’ Tirenia campaign

Last week, just before the new year, James wrapped up his most recent Dragons of Tirenia campaign. I know in the post he says he doesn’t know when the next one will be but…. this is James. Less than one week later he already had the next one in mind 🙂

You can read the wrap-up, and what came before, here:

Panini, G.P. (1757) Ancient Rome [Oil on Canvas]. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

SBG Fortnightly Update #3

Woo! It was hard yakka but I got the Alpha test build of Her Jentle Hi-ness out to my higher-tier backers on Tuesday. Now I might finally be able to get some sleep, hopefully, for the rest of the week, before taking stock of where I am at. Before that stage, I can only be really vague about my plans, but I would really like to have the game fully released to the public by the end of March at the very latest.

Here is the rough roadmap of the versions/builds coming up:

  • Alpha V1 released on 4th January to high tier backers
  • Alpha V2 with missing backer content coming ASAP
  • Beta V1 coming after that, after a ‘Happy Path’ test run has been conducted (for this game, that means unlocking everything in the Achievements and/or Gallery) – I’m consdering opening the Beta up to all the tiers of backers, so that I can get a broader range of opinions before the release
  • Beta V2 possibly if needed
  • Release to backers one week before public
  • Public release

What else is there to say? It’s Christmas/New Year’s holidays right now in NZ, and James and I have been running around after our relentless toddler all day, every day. We’re exhausted! So no, we will not be recording a podcast this week. Next week we’ll record, so the next one should be out before the next update. He has actually written a Dragonlance review over the break, but I have yet to post it! Between child minding and the alpha build, there has been basically no time to spare!

Bring on the end of the holidays…

SBG Fortnightly Update #2 and End of Year thoughts

Well, here we are again at the end of another year! So how’s things? Honestly, my brain is bouncing off this topic a little. Classic resistance of hard work, right?

For Her Jentle Hi-ness:

  • I have barrelled through 110 out of 140 mandatory work items that I want to get done before I give my upper tier backers an alpha test build around the first week of January. Actually, I’d really like to get the extra 20 optional items in there too, if possible. Those 110 work items were since November 30, by the way. I’m going to be hauling to make my way through as much of that 30-50 items over the next couple of days before Christmas, so that I can take as much of a break over the next two weeks as possible. Still, going to have to do some testing before handing it over to the players, of course!
  • So on that note, let’s reflect on Her Jentle Hi-ness. What went wrong this year? Why did I not manage to release the game within the half-year since the campaign? For comparison, Nine Lives and Wonderland Nights both released less than three months after the close of their campaigns. Well, for starters, those two were much closer to finished when I started their campaigns. July-Claire was honestly pretty delusional to think she could have gotten all of this done by December and have it be a fun, non-stressful journey, especially given the greater degree of custom character work I promised in this game. But the nail in the coffin was the lockdown lasting for over 100 days, of course. I had to battle my way through major anxiety and mental health issues tied to my conception of who I am and my self-belief as a part of that.
  • So what are the steps forward I see from this, given what happened this year? Well, if I am going to do custom work again, I need to be much more generous with my scope for that. But I also think a really standard place I need to be is where I was with Nine Lives and Wonderland Nights, which is at like 90% done, and just plug in the custom elements. The UI and stuff like that should definitely be done before the campaign.
  • But! An extra factor to this… I don’t think I’ll be using Kickstarter again for the foreseeable future. They have decided to adopt blockchain as a core part of their business, and I do not want to be a part of that, until it’s actually a 100% promise that the technology used by the blockchain isn’t hurting the environment – or rather, isn’t hurting it any more than our existing technologies are already hurting it. Adding on more damage to the environment is just… how blind are these people? But anyway, that’s a gripe I don’t want to go to deep into right now.
  • What’s going right with Jentle Hi-ness, though? Got to take some time to reflect on the nice things. Well, I love Sean, Michaela, Lauren, James and Tom’s work on their parts of the game, and I am looking forward to getting my story out there for the world to see and be amused by. So… that’s nice? Don’t worry, I’m not feeling doom and gloom, I’m just finding it a little hard to see the forest for the trees right now. Which is not a great position to find myself in as the person who is supposed to be seeing both forest and trees at once.

For my game dev career in general, my next steps that I intend are as follows:

  1. Release Her Jentle Hi-ness in Q1 2022.
  2. Spend Q2 2022 getting my existing three major titles onto Android, and possibly iOS too.
  3. Q3 and Q4, look into trying out a new way of working, by doing free episodic releases, build engagement for the audience with the ongoing story and characters, and offer a subscription for people who want to support or want custom content – and do not over-promise on that last point!

The wisdom that will guide my path forward is considering prioritisation a lot more than I have been. As a video game maker, I am just one person. Yes, I have people who contribute work, but the bulk of the work is on me. What’s most important is getting my work in its best form to the audience who will appreciate it most. So I’ll be figuring out more about my audience going forward, and working on getting good quality work to them, and not mucking around with irrelevant distractions.

A brief reflection on our progress with Dragons of Tirenia: James has devoted as much time as he realistically can to this, given the unique circumstances we’ve been in this year. We haven’t managed to release our second adventure module yet, but we are at least closer to getting there than we were six, even three months ago. I think, again with the prioritisation, that it’s most important that we get good quality work out to the people who will appreciate it. So that’s what we’ll keep doing, but at a relaxed pace. No point creating horrible amounts of stress about it. Like James says, this is not something he cares to make a full-time career out of.

As for the podcast and other things, really, we just do the podcast for fun now. This does mean I’m a little less inclined to stress about making deadlines now. James feels a greater deal of connection to the podcast, as a lot of it is him conveying ludicrous amounts of information he’s been harbouring for years. But I’m happy to keep it going because it has a very small but dedicated following who talk to us about the episodes and really enjoy them. Same with my pokemon webcomic.

A side thing that I’ve been working on lately, as a bit of stress relief (hahaha… really?), actually came to something of an end yesterday. I’ve been working on a novel, and I finished the first draft (or like… first draft of the current iteration, since multiple earlier versions of this story exist already). The word count was just shy of 120,000 words, which is a record for me as I am usually a lot more terse. I guess I was enjoying myself more than usual, which actually, I was. I knew where the story was going, and more than ever, I was confident in my ability to tell it. Actually, I was surprised by how many times the characters did things I wasn’t expecting, given that I’ve been living with this story in my head for the last 15 years. Nearly every writing session was a joy. I think there was just one day where I didn’t know where I was headed, and every other day it was like I was simply channeling something I knew already, rather than forcing the ideas to arrive on the page. I have a few little scenes to add, so I guess it will be more like 125,000 words when I’ve done that, but then I want to put it aside and focus on Her Jentle Hi-ness again solely until I get the alpha test build out. Then I can go back and do some redrafting and see where this novel goes. Hopefully further than nowhere this time!

So here’s to 2021. It was the best of times (winning Excellence in Narrative at the Pavs) and the worst of times (realising how dark my internal world was getting due to stress and sleepless nights, seeing the deadline of the end of year looming up and Her Jentle Hi-ness nowhere near ready) and then, I guess, the best of times again (finding ways to manage that stress and finding new joy in life!).

May 2022 be… honestly, a calmer, more sustainable ride is all I’m looking for right now. Ciao!

Podcast Episode #32: All About Dragons of Tirenia

Have you got questions about our RPG setting, Dragons of Tirenia? You’re not alone! Even our personal friends have said, Hey, what’s that thing you’re always going on about? So here is a podcast episode that goes into our development of the setting since starting in 2014, all the way up to future plans we have for supplements, adventures, and related media.

If you enjoyed this episode, let us know! We might just do a lore episode if this one proves popular.

The pictures below are referenced in the episode: