The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Dragons of Winter Night, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: I still remember Dragons of Winter Night pretty well. In fact, I still remember the first time I read it, sitting on a seat in the local shopping mall, waiting for my mother and sister to finish clothes shopping. I don’t think it was my favourite, back in the day. I don’t remember why – maybe it’s the increased romantic elements, or maybe it’s the inexplicable gaps in the narrative (More on that later!). That said, I remember all three books of the Chronicles trilogy fondly, so I think that dislike is only relative to the other books.

Once again, I showed the covers to Claire to get her impressions. Here’s what she thought.

·         Original Larry Elmore cover: A little campy with those bright pops of colour, I’m not mad at it. Still going with the whole dragon photobombing thing, I see.

·         Reprint Larry Elmore cover: Is the blue dragon friendly? Cos I’m not sure what vibe I’m getting here. Also I hate that knight lady’s perm, too 80s for me! (I challenged Claire on this, since she’s previously said she likes her Dragonlance characters with 80s hair, and she said, “I know, but I just hate short perms!”)

·         The UK Jeff Easley cover: I have no idea what I am looking at here. Boat sailing into a volcano? (Once again, this cover shows an event that’s not in this book, and manages to crop the dragon completely out of the art!)

·         The modern Matt Stawicki cover: Aww, I don’t like how these modern covers get less campy. That being said, I do quite like the poses, it’s like oh geez guys, here comes that dragon!

Plot Summary: Our far-too-numerous band of adventurers – Tanis the half-elf, Flint the dwarf, Tasslehoff the halfling kender, Sturm the knight, Riverwind the ranger, Goldmoon the cleric, Raistlin the wizard, Caramon the fighter, Tika the fighter, Elistan the cleric, Laurana the elf princess, and Gilthanas the elf prince – leave the kingdom of the dwarves to find ships in the port city of Tarsis, only to discover there’s no sea there anymore! They meet up with Derek Crownguard, a knight hunting for Dragon MacGuffin Orbs, and Alhana Starbreeze, another elf princess. During a dragon attack, the group is separated into two more manageable groups. Laurana, Sturm, Flint, Tasslehoff, Elistan, and Gilthanas go with Derek to the ice level in Ice Wall Castle to look for a MacGuffin Orb; Tanis, Caramon, Raistlin, Riverwind, Goldmoon and Tika go with Alhana to the undead-haunted nightmare-forest level in Silvanesti. Don’t worry, first group – because Sturm found a plot coupon, you get to take part in the worst acid trip ever too! Everyone dies, but it was just a dream, so they get better, but there’s lots of foreshadowing, and Raistlin (the party wizard) gets a MacGuffin Orb.

Meanwhile, Laurana’s group finds their second MacGuffin Orb and gets shipwrecked on the island of Southern Ergoth, where all the elven refugees are living. The elves are the chosen people of good, so they’re all on the verge of war with each other and are enslaving the native wild elves. Yay Team Good! Our heroes escape into the wilderness with the help of Silvara, a sexy elf with a big secret. There, they discover the Dragonlances – the only weapon capable of fighting back against dragons. All the representatives of the good races meet up, and immediately start fighting over who gets the MacGuffin Orb. Yay Team Good! Tasslehoff destroys the orb so they’ll stop fighting, and the arrival of the Dragonlances makes everyone moderately enthused to maybe possibly get off their backsides one day and do something. In the meantime, the assembled Knights have to defend a tower against the Dragonarmies. This task is made harder when unfulfilled political ambitions and the stick up Sir Derek’s backside drives him insane, but after a heroic sacrifice, and the lucky discovery of a THIRD MacGuffin Orb, the heroes are able to save the day.

Meanwhile, Tanis’ group puts on a travelling show, and Tanis gets laid. This does not help to resolve his angst.

The Good: This book is, by and large, an immense improvement over Dragons of Autumn Twilight. While that was extremely faithful to the first two adventure modules, Winter Night plays much more fast and loose, focusing on the characters and skipping over superfluous material like the dungeon crawls. This is a great idea, which plays well to the strengths of the format, even if it makes for some strange cuts – especially what happened between this book and the last one, and the attack on Ice Wall Castle, which is relayed in the form of a poem. More importantly, it allows them to focus the narrative around the two main magic items – the Dragonlance and the Dragon Orbs. 

The devastating dragon attack on Tarsis serves as a counterpoint to the later battle when the party, armed with the appropriate magical tools, is finally able to combat dragons. Furthermore, Weis and Hickman decide to focus on the characters that they find interesting, as opposed to the more even-handed focus of the previous book. Riverwind and Goldmoon, Elistan, Gilthanas and Tika all become supporting characters, propping up other characters’ arcs and then getting out of the way. Gilthanas does get to star in a romantic storyline, but it’s quickly resolved. The result is that Tasslehoff and Flint, who were rather annoying at times in the last book, blossom into a Laurel and Hardy-esque comedy duo. Laurana blossoms into the main character of her story arc, and indeed the book, while Tanis and Raistlin share focus in their branch of the narrative. 

Raistlin really is an interesting character, and he gets a lot of time to shine here. He single-handedly manages to exploit the foreshadowing in the nightmare of Silvanesti to defeat it, comes up with the performing troupe ploy, and masters a dragon orb. We get to see more nuance in his relationship with Caramon as well. It’s easy to see that he’s the writers’ favourite character, and why he gets to be the star of the sequel trilogy. I’m also a big fan of mysteries in role-playing games, and there’s a number here – in particular, ‘what’s up with Raistlin?’ and ‘who is the Green Gemstone Man?’ 

There’s a twist at the end of the book where (spoiler for a thirty year old book, which is ruined by the second cover!) Kitiara, the missing party member, Caramon and Raistlin’s sister and Tanis’ lover, turns out to be one of the evil Dragon Highlords. (I didn’t want to give this away, but it’s going to be absolutely impossible to talk about the books from this point on otherwise.) It’s hard to evaluate how effective a twist is when you already know about it, but it’s well foreshadowed and has massive consequences for the characters from this point. There are a few excellent sequences as well: the climactic sacrifice of one of the main characters was quite powerful.

The Neutral: This book is set at the end of 351 A.C and the beginning of 352 A.C. It skips over the third and fourth adventures, which cover how the companions discovered the hidden dwarven kingdom of Thorbardin and retrieved the lost Hammer of Kharas to earn sanctuary there for themselves and the escaped prisoners. (What ever happened to those prisoners? The impetus for this book is to find a new home for these refugees, but they’re forgotten very quickly. I guess they had to stay underground with the dwarves for the rest of the war, after all their leaders abandoned them to go chase magic items.) This book covers the 5th adventure (especially the first four pages in the city of Tarsis; it skips the lengthy dungeon crawl in Ice Wall Castle after that), the 6th and the 7th adventure, and also the 9th and a tiny bit of the 10th (which are about Tanis and his group). The missing adventure of Ice Wall Castle is covered in more detail in Finding the Faith, a short story in The Magic of Krynn anthology; later, Weis and Hickman returned to write the Lost Chronicles, which properly fills the gaps in the story. The first book in the series, Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, explains what happened between Dragons of Autumn Twilight and Dragons of Winter Night; the second, Dragons of the Highlord Reaches, tells the story of the battle of Ice Wall Castle, as well as a few other gaps in the story.

The Bad: Wow, this book has a lot of McGuffins in it! It’s a result of the original adventure design, rather than being Weis and Hickman’s fault as writers. However, we’re introduced to the extremely rare and powerful Dragon Orbs at the beginning of the book, told that only three exist… and lo and behold, by the end of the book, we’ve got all three of them! I was frankly sick of the things in the end, although I have to admit that after the amount that they’d been built up, the climactic scene with Laurana struggling to master one was quite tense. 

One of the problems with the tighter focus on certain characters is that they’re not very interesting! Laurana gets a lot of character development here, but it’s a pity that she’s a fairly bland person. She goes from passive and selfish to active and selfless, but beyond her immature love for Tanis, there’s just not a lot to her. Tanis himself is even worse. He’s torn between his human and elven sides, which could be interesting, but this conflict is personified in his love for the beautiful elf Laurana and the beautiful human Kitiara. Most of the time, it feels more like him agonizing about which gorgeous lady he should be with! 

The antagonists are also fairly problematic. Derek Crownguard is a caricature of a self-righteous paladin, with no redeeming qualities. He’s one of two competing leaders to take over the Knights of Solamnia, but there’s no reason why his side is right, or why anyone would support him. His sudden descent into raving lunacy also comes out of nowhere. It felt unrealistic and was a very disrespectful portrayal of mental illness. Kitiara is also problematic, in that her villainy manifests itself in an insatiable sexual appetite – one of the only characters who seems to have one! All the good characters nobly restrain themselves, with the exception of Tanis, the minute that he meets Kitiara again and starts giving in to his ‘human blood’, and Gilthanas and Silvara. They have a rather steamy love scene, but their tragic love is doomed, and founders very quickly once Silvara’s secret is revealed. It seems to be pretty clear that sex is bad in Dragonlance. 

Apart from this, we have more race essentialism with our race of mad inventor gnomes. (That said, I found the Mount Nevermind chapter to be fairly funny, and Dragonlance’s gnomes did go on to influence the entire portrayal of gnomes in fantasy from this point on – just look at World of Warcraft!) I did find the portrayal of elves interesting – they’re officially the chosen people of Good, but they’re the most close-minded, bigoted and judgmental people in all Krynn! I’d be a fan of this in a setting that didn’t feature capital-G Good so strongly. Meanwhile, the avatar of the main Good god prefers to hang out with the innocent, childlike kender rather than his own chosen people, and Tasslehoff is a much more caring, empathic, and innocent person than any of the elves. Why aren’t the Kender the chosen people of Good? I didn’t mention equitable gender representation in my last review, and I’m not really mentioning it again here, because there isn’t any. We should be glad to have Laurana and Kitiara as reasonably active female characters. The past is a different country; it doesn’t feel fair to criticize them too much for this.

Final Impressions: A better narrative and better characterization helps, but this book is still held back by its origins as an adaptation of adventure modules, by unevenly interesting characters, and questionable underlying morality. 3.5 Disks of Mishakal.

Next fortnight, the War of the Lance ends in a high-stakes episode of The Dating Game!

Dev blog #32 – The times they are a’changing

Today I got a nice message when I logged in to make this blog post. It’s the six year anniversary of my making this blog site! Where were we back then? January 2015, James and I had left high school teaching and were working frankly rubbish part time jobs while we tried to figure out what it was we wanted to do with our lives. We tried for a few months to get this whole Sky Bear Games thing going. In February we got in touch with Julia from Cheeky Parrot Games and kicked off the process of getting Cat Capers published, and by the end of the year, it was. In March 2015 I started making The Nine Lives of Nim, or as it was known back then Prince of Cats. But we had no real idea what we were doing when it comes to getting our games out there (nor do we still, really), so soon enough we went back to regular jobs and this stayed being a side thing, taking various shapes over the years.

For the most part, before my decision to do a weekly dev blog last July, this was just an occasional RPG session report blog. Will it go back to that after a while? Well, to be honest, I am not sure. Things are changing rapidly in our lives. More on that when I have more concrete things to say.

In the meantime, what have we been up to? James in still on his break from Dragons of Tirenia, and is starting a new Star Wars d6 roleplay on our discord, so please join in if that sounds interesting to you. He is also steadily making his way through the Dragonlance canon to make his reviews – one coming up this Sunday!

As for me, I am currently a bit stalled, waiting for the extra translation work needed for the Spanish and Japanese translations. But it gives me more time to work on the future podcast episodes, and tinker with the voice work for Nine Lives as it comes in. We recorded something rather exciting with some new friends from overseas, but I don’t want to get into that too much as we had some technical errors. We’ll likely have to re-record, so I don’t want to hype it too early!

There is actually more news, as I said before, things are changing rapidly. But I don’t want to jump the gun on anything before it’s official.

Dev blog #31 – Conejo Blanco! ホワイト・ラビット!

That’s right, it’s time to talk about the Spanish and Japanese translations for Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary! I am currently working on those, helping the company who are implementing these translations and other upcoming versions to put all the translations into the code. It’s faster for me to do it, rather than them, since I have done it once before for the Chinese release. Currently I am waiting on more translation work to come in and then I’ll have a fully testable build.

Bit of work to still do though! Title still English, and left hand side too small for the Spanish word for Settings!

James meanwhile is taking a bit of a break from Dragons of Tirenia still. Last year he got very burnt out not just on Tirenia from having run almost every game in that setting, but also just being burnt out on the mechanics and drama surrounding Dungeons and Dragons even more so. But he is planning his next steps to move forward: he needs to do a bunch of research into some Italian Renaissance cities he knows little about so he can be re-inspired. Also I might play Assassin’s Creed 2 to help inspire him!

Meanwhile, I hope you are enjoying his Dragonlance review from the other day. He’s busy reading the rest of that first trilogy. Even though I have much less of a connection with Dragonlance, having not grown up with it, I am really getting into how excited he is about it. I might have to read the first trilogy after all! But in fairness, James is trying to get into Elder Scrolls, which is a big thing for me from my late teens. Maybe you’ll see us streaming Morrowind, or even Daggerfall Unity sometime soon!

Exciting podcasts coming up! We just released one, as you may have seen in our earlier post. The next one we have slated for Monday after next is with special guests Alex and Eric aka the Bundle Buddies! Check out their podcast here, and stay tuned because we’ll be guesting on their podcast too!

Dragons of Despair – a new entry in the Dragonlance saga, or a reboot?

We have more Dragonlance news!

There is a press release here on enworld.org which says that for the first time in a decade, there will indeed be a new Dragonlance novel, as we have been speculating for the last couple of months! Written by the original authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the book will apparently be called Dragons of Despair.

This adds a lot more fuel to the fires of our speculation! We’ve been wondering for a while now whether the rumoured novel would be a reboot, or a fresh entry following on chronologically from where the last novels left off. While a large part of us feels like surely they wouldn’t do a reboot, the name “Dragons of Despair” is actually the name of the first adventure module of the original Dragonlance run! So… maybe it is a reboot after all?

This could be a welcome opportunity to change some of the more egregiously 80s things that were in the original series (a whole race of dwarves with learning difficulties that are the butt of every joke, for example). That idea also gives credence to the rumour that Weis and/or Hickman got upset over changes they were being asked to make, with some sources alleging that they were upset with the “PC” direction Wizards of the Coast were asking them to take.

Whatever the truth of that situation was, we’re glad that the novel is going ahead. James has been a huge fan since a very young age, and since talking about it here and on our podcast, many other people have commented to say it was a big part of their lives too. So for everyone’s sake, we’re hoping this will be exciting, regardless of which direction they are taking.

What do you reckon? Would you prefer a reboot, or a continuation of existing continuity? Let us know here, or hit us up on our Twitter where we are also discussing Dragonlance a lot. And there’s also our Discord too!

Podcast Episode 15 – Our favourite licensed games

There are a bunch of terrible licensed games out there (the old ET game springs to mind!). But amongst a lot of trash and a sea of mediocrity with capitalist glitz and glam slapped on, there are a few hidden gems which are legitimately fun to play. This episode, we pick our six favourite games which fit the category of ‘licensed’. Have you got any you really enjoyed you want us to know about? Conversely, are there any horror stories you want to warn us off? Let us know, and meanwhile, listen to the episode here: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/42866077

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Introduction, and Dragons of Autumn Twilight, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Dragonlance was an important part of my childhood. After I read The Lord of the Rings, I looked around for other fantasy books like it. I read C.S. Lewis, I read Terry Brooks, I read David Eddings, and I read the Dragonlance Saga. In the back of the book, there was an advertisement – do you want to experience these adventures for yourself? That was how I learnt about Dungeons & Dragons, and on a family holiday to the U.K. I got a copy of the Players’ Handbook and the Dragonlance campaign setting boxed set, Tales of the Lance. And from there, there was no stopping me.

It’s been a while since I last read a Dragonlance book now, but I have a fairly sizeable collection of novels and roleplaying supplements, and it’s something I remember fondly. So do a lot of you, apparently! My constantly bringing up Dragonlance has become a sort of running joke, but when we did our podcast on Dragonlance, it got more reaction that just about anything else we’ve done, put together! The people have spoken, and what they have said is: we want Dragonlance.

So here we are. I’m going to be reading the entire Dragonlance saga, about two hundred novels. A lot of it I’ve read before; some of it, I’ll be reading for the first time, and some I may have to skip if I can’t find a copy. I’ll probably cover some of the other products: I’m keen to read the original comic books, which are new to me, and maybe some of the roleplaying supplements, for instance. I’ll keep going as long as people are interested. If any of you have read them, you can share your thoughts with me too! 

I’m going to read one book a fortnight. (This gives me time to read everything else I want to read in between!) Each review will be structured like this:

First Impressions: What I remember, if anything, about this book from back in the day. I’ll also show Claire the cover art and get her impressions, because that can be funny.

Plot Summary: A quick summary of what happened.

The Good (represented by Paladine, The Platinum Dragon, leader of the Gods of Good): What worked! What I liked. Positivity.

The Neutral (represented by Gilean, the Book, leader of the Gods of Neutrality): Neutral things I want to say – continuity notes, probably.

The Bad (represented by Takhisis, Queen of Darkness, leader of the Gods of Evil): What didn’t work. What I didn’t like. Negativity.

Then I’ll give each book a rating out of five Discs of Mishakal (an important artifact that is suspiciously similar to the Mormon golden plates of Joseph Smith).

So grab your hoopak and start whistling a road song, because here we go!

The Beginner’s Guide to Dragonlance

Some of you know lots about Dragonlance already. Brothers and sisters, I pity us. For other people, you might appreciate a quick guide to explain what’s going on.

What’s Dragonlance? Dragonlance was a Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting. It went from 1984-2011. There are rumours that it’s coming back. Dragonlance got invented because people realized that, at the time, there were lots of dungeons, but not many dragons, in D&D. So it’s Dragon-World. It’s also Epic Story World, because they decided to tell a giant ongoing story in a way that had never been done before, across twelve adventures – each one spotlighting a different type of dragon. To really make it a big deal, they also adapted the story in comics, computer games, and – this is the big one – novels. The novels were so popular that they quickly took over, and while the game line struggled, nearly 200 books were published in Dragonlance – to say nothing of all the other tie-in novels that Dragonlance inspired for other worlds.

What’s the story? On the world of Krynn, on the continent of Ansalon, everything is awful. 350 years ago, the gods went Old Testament on the world by throwing a flaming mountain at it, before departing for parts unknown. Dragons, meanwhile, are considered children’s stories. Eight random PC-types discover that the dragons are back, with armies led by Dragon Highlords and dragon-men called Draconians as their soldiers. They rediscover the ancient gods, and find the secret of forging the Dragonlances, the only weapons capable of fighting the dragons. Also they have lots of teenage angst along the way!

Who are the characters? There’s a huge core cast, and they’re going to be recurring for years, so it’s good to have a basic knowledge of who our heroes are. Here goes!

Tanis Half-Elven: Half-Elf (surprise!) fighter. Team leader. He can’t decide whether he likes his elf girlfriend Laurana or his human girlfriend Kitiara more. Nominally the main character early on.

Flint Fireforge: Dwarf fighter. Grumpy old curmudgeon, team grandpa. Afraid of boats, allergic to horses, racist about gully dwarves.

Tasslehoff Burrfoot: Kender (basically a halfling) Rogue. Has a childlike innocence and kleptomaniac tendency to ‘borrow’ of other people’s stuff. People either love him or hate him.

Sturm Brightblade: Human fighter. He’s a wannabe knight. Gloomy and self-righteous, but also self-sacrificing and idealistic.

Caramon Majere: Human fighter. This party has way too many fighters! Big, muscly, dumb jock. Likes food, likes drink. In an mutually abusive relationship with his brother Raistlin, who he looks after.

Raistlin Majere: Human wizard. Edgelord wizard with gold skin and hourglass eyes because Wizard Exams are hardcore. Gets to start the game with a magic staff. Most people’s favourite character, including one of the authors.

Goldmoon: Human Cleric. ‘Barbarian’ (I hate how D&D uses that word!), a.k.a. Native American coded character. The token girl in the starting party. Should be the main character.

Riverwind. Human Ranger. ‘Barbarian’ (again, hate that), Native American-coded. He and Goldmoon are in love, and that’s really about all I can say about him. Sorry Riverwind, I love you, but you are the most boring party member.

The following characters aren’t in the initial party, but join the party in the first book (with one notable exception!)

Tika Waylan: Human fighter/rogue. Barmaid and girl-next-door love interest for Caramon. She never really gets a lot to do except whack bad guys with a frying pan, but sometimes that’s enough.

Laurana Kanan: Elf fighter. Tanis’ foster sister, Most Beautiful Evar, princess, and irrationally infatuated with him. Intentionally useless early on, she gets better, but she really needs a Sassy Gay Friend to talk to about her boy problems.

Gilthanas Kanan: Elf fighter/wizard. Tanis’ foster-brother. He’s just sort of there? He was my favourite back in the day because I like elves, but he really has nothing going for him.

Kitiara Majere: Human fighter. ANOTHER fighter! Caramon and Raistlin’s big sister, Tanis’ human girlfriend. She’s a Strong Female Character! Actually, for the 80s, she was pretty strong. And also pretty not appearing in this book. She was a part of the group, but she bailed on them and never reunited with the others. Where have you gone, Kitiara?

That’s our initial core cast! Other people join the party, but they’re nowhere near as important as these eleven. And eight of them are fighters! Good grief. Anyway, these are our main characters for the first couple of trilogies, and most of the spinoff novels are about their backstories, or (later on) their children and eventually grandchildren.

So let us begin… 

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Dragons of Autumn Twilight, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: This is the one that started it all off! I remember it being rough around the edges, but pretty decent. There were a few different covers to show to Claire this time around – these are her reactions: 

  • The original Larry Elmore cover: “Why is this dragon photobombing Fleetwood Mac?” 
  • The reprint Larry Elmore cover: “The costumes are SO much better than the first, but the dragon still looks super calm for what I know reds should be like.” 
  • The UK Jeff Easley cover: “What the hell is even going on here? And why is my boy red dragon cut off so much? Not fair. Not a big fan of heavy armour Goldmoon, bring back cover two!” (This cover is a fairly strange crop from a larger piece called “The Epic Quest. As is typical for the UK covers, it shows a scene that doesn’t happen in this book, and the character Claire thinks is Goldmoon is in fact not.)
  • The Matt Stawicki cover: “It is soooo toned down from the ridiculousness of the other ones, almost too much. There is something about it that reminds me of world of warcraft. Also sorry but Goldmoon’s hair should be bigger. Even as times change, Goldmoon should always have 80s hair, it’s the rule.”

Plot Summary: A group of adventurers reunite after years apart looking for signs of the lost gods, to meet two barbarians, Goldmoon and Riverwind, carrying a staff with miraculous healing powers. How convenient! Mysterious dark forces – the reptilian draconians – are after it, and the companions are on the run. The journey takes them to the ruined city of Xak Tsaroth, which was abandoned when no one could spell its name correctly, and fight a dragon to retrieve the Disks of Mishakal, a McGuffin artifact with a more than passing resemblance to the Mormons’ golden disks. Once that’s done, they level up and return home, only to discover it’s been conquered by the Dragonarmies. After being railroaded to the land of the elves, the heroes agree to help rescue the slaves from the dragonarmies’ iron mine and fight the Dragon Highlord, whose parents hated him enough to call him Verminaard. But there’s a traitor in their midst! Could it be the most obvious suspect? And what does this have to do with Berem, a strange man with a green gemstone embedded in his chest?

The Good: High literature this isn’t, but Dragons of Autumn Twilight actually holds up pretty well. This is basically the Critical Role of its day, almost an Actual Play transcript in novel form. A lot of attention gets given to the eight (!) main characters, and they’re all given a chance to show their strengths and their weaknesses, and how they interact with one another. They’re all pretty standard D&D stereotypes, and it amused me to see how many of them I’ve seen around a table: the Wizard Obsessed With Magic, the Killjoy Paladin, the Thief Who Steals From Their Own Party, and so on. Each has an extensive backstory, moments where they’re extremely likeable, and moments where you’ll want to strangle them. The worldbuilding is pretty good as well, with lots of allusions to the wider world and the deep history of Huma Dragonbane, the Kinslayer War, the empire of Istar, and much more that would get fleshed out in the ancillary novels.

The Neutral: This is the first! It’s the first Dragonlance novel, the first official Dungeons & Dragons novel, and the first book for both Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. (There was originally a different author, but when their efforts were unsatisfactory, Hickman, the game designer for Dragonlance, and Weis, the book editor, took over and wrote it themselves.) In universe, this book is set in the year 351 A.C. It’s based, very faithfully, on the first two Dragonlance adventure modules, Dragons of Despair and Dragons of Flame. It will be extensively referenced in future books, which will show how the companions first met, what they did in the five years in which they were separated, the backstories for the villains, and explain a lot of the history referenced in here. The most important tie-in novels are the Lost Chronicles, by Weis and Hickman. Written twenty years later, they fill in the gaps between the original novels, so Dragons of the Dwarven Depths is the immediate sequel to this book. However, I’ll get there when I get there!

The Bad: One of the problems with being the first of your kind is that you’ve really got no map for what you’re doing. The book is slavishly faithful to the two adventures upon which it’s based. This can be a strength at times – the book bounces along from set piece to set piece pretty rapidly – but it’s also a weakness, when you can almost see the spell slots being tracked behind the scenes, and you could plot the party’s progress on a map. Weis and Hickman themselves admitted that they were finding their feet regarding fidelity to the source material, and they feel free to deviate from the adventures much more after this book. It also invalidates the adventures – how can you create your own stories about the War of the Lance, when the official story has been canonically told? 

In addition, a lot of the episodes are highly derivative, especially of The Lord of the Rings. In the first epic story-driven roleplaying adventure, that’s not really a problem. Everyone wants to start out by experiencing the iconic stereotypes and tropes first-hand. However, in a book, we have already read these scenes, and so as the adventurers meet the Army of the Dead, then Galadriel (who’s a unicorn this time around), then go to Moria, meet Gandalf, and then go to Lothlorien… it’s all a bit familiar. To be fair, Dragons of Autumn Twilight is better at remixing or tweaking these tropes than, say, The Sword of Shannara, and I did enjoy Fizban, who’s Gandalf by way of a senile Deadpool. 

The prose is generally good, with a few really great lines (generally dry humour), but there’s a tendency to info-dump at times, and other times the point of view wanders very casually from one character’s thoughts to another. The whole sequence with the wicker dragon is ridiculous. The book’s real sins, however, are its shaky theology and its blatant 80s-isms. This is the story of the rediscovery of the gods, who mankind abandoned after they threw a meteor at the world. It’s all very Old Testament, but it doesn’t cast the gods in a very good light. When the gentle goddess of healing seems to demand a blood sacrifice – very reminiscent of Abraham getting ready to sacrifice his son – from the group half way through the book, you can absolutely understand where Tanis Half-Elven, the leader of the group, is coming from when he curses them and says that people are better off without them! 

Meanwhile, the handling of race and gender is problematic, to say the least. The four major female characters (not counting the black dragon) are defined by their exquisite beauty – or lack of it, in the case of Bupu the gully dwarf. They all have precious little agency, even Goldmoon, who by rights should probably be the main character. She’s the one who finds the old gods, but then she’s forced to find a man to actually lead the new faith. Speaking of the gully dwarves, they’re the worst example of the race essentialism that runs throughout Dragonlance. Every single one of them is ugly, stupid, and played for laughs. Bupu is the sole exception, whose wretchedness is a way for our evil magician Raistlin to show some humanity by pitying her. There are other races that are all identical, and generally awful – kleptomaniac kender, for example, although I generally find them much better than gully dwarves. In later books, there are more nuanced depictions of some of the races. I remember draconians, the villainous mooks, becoming surprisingly compelling in later books. But at this point, it’s painfully tone-deaf for a modern reader.

Final Score: Given how much the writers admitted they were finding their feet with this book, it’s surprisingly good! It feels even more formulaic and cliched now than it did at the time, but I can’t hold that against it. Also, I have a lot of goodwill for this book. Three Disks of Mishakal out of five.

Next fortnight, the saga continues with Dragons of Winter Night, in which everyone has a really bad acid trip.

Dev blog #30 – First week of the new year

What a week! We had a fun time livestreaming LEGO Lord of the Rings, and in the end it was just under 12 hours. In the end we raised $110USD for Project Northmoor. We would have liked to get more attention around the cause, but we made a couple of new friends on the stream, as well as from our #DwarfNameChallenge videos. We’re making a few plans to get into streaming more, but it’s a balance between what we’re interested in streaming, and what people are interested in watching. We had some requests for various Star Wars games though, and that we are happy to do!

Efforts with all our usual projects continue as normal. There is further movement on Wonderland Nights, aside from the success of the Chinese version – the Japanese and Spanish versions are well underway! I have contributed to that a little this week.

I was filled with inspiration last night and came up with lots of ideas for the next game, the one I intend to do for the Nanoreno Game Jam this year. If you listened to the last episode of the podcast, you might remember this as the one with the working title ‘Demon Summoner’. At this stage I am only allowed to write notes to myself to plan the game, and not actually do any creation of code or assets, but I have a good start on the notes. The better my initial design ideas are outlined and laid out clearly, the better the actual design of the game goes – as anyone who works in computer programming knows!

Meanwhile on a personal note, I got back in Pokemon GO this week. Wow, the game has come so far from where it started back in 2016, which was when I last played. There is way more incentive to do just about everything that the game offers. This is good, as I remember getting quickly bored of the first iteration of the game. In general I have been getting back into Pokemon in a big way lately… who knows, maybe I’m going to end up streaming Sword and/or Shield one of these days…

Keep your eyes peeled for another post later this week… James has a review coming up that should be highly entertaining!

Livestreaming LEGO Lord of the Rings tomorrow!

To celebrate the birthday of JRR Tolkien and raise funds for Project Northmoor, James and I will be playing LEGO Lord of the Rings from start to finish (probably just story mode finish, not 100% collectables completion) on our Twitch channel starting from 10am NZT on Sunday 3rd January. It could go from as little as ten hours, to seventeen, or even longer… So come and join us! We’ll be counting up any swears for the swear jar, and if you challenge resident Middle Earth expert James to a trivia challenge, if he gets it wrong we pay $1, and if he answers then you pay $1 to Project Northwood. Can’t wait to see you there!

Also here are the videos we made to promote this over the last week, if you want to see them 😀

The Final Chapter of Street Rat is out now

A little under a year ago I was playing around on Itch, exploring what it had to offer and trying to figure out how I wanted to engage with it. I found the Game Jams and I got a wee bit addicted , signed up to a bunch I never completed, but there was one I really stuck with for the whole year. Each month, there was a themed jam for Bitsy, a small HTML game maker. I decided to tell a three act story with it in twelve parts. I’ve learnt a lot about being flexible within the constraints of a platform in order to tell the story I want to tell. I usually had an idea of where the chapter would go next, but the month’s theme would then sway that idea either completely, or just in a little way. For this twelfth episode, the word ‘Candles’ made me think of the room pictured below, and inspired the entire ending, so that’s the sort of sway the themes had on me. Meanwhile, even once I had the theme and my story, the other thing that would sway, or even completely change what I made as the final game was the restrictions of the platform itself. You have to be careful with only three colours to work with. You have to be clever about how you make locked doors when the platform itself has no support for it (except they added support for it halfway through the year [too late for Episode 1, of course!]). So all in all, I have no regrets about my time with Bitsy, but I am looking forward to not stressing out about it every month and just focusing on the upcoming re/releases. Please enjoy the final chapter, and I recommend replaying the first eleven first if you have the time: https://skybeargames.itch.io/street-rat-xii

And by the way, the ending you get could affect our long-term campaign, so I am keen to hear what happens to you if you play it!

Dev blog #29 – Resolutions

I’ll try not to double up on information that I gave on the podcast the other day, but it is time to reflect and think about what the next year holds in store for Sky Bear Games.

DRAGONS OF TIRENIA – James will continue to work on this, as will I where needed. I have a bit of a goal to get it on Kickstarter by at the very latest October 2021. But I also am flexible on that. No point just creating stress for myself and James.

WONDERLAND NIGHTS is wrapped for now! I might need to lend additional help for the further translation releases of course, but until I hear more from the company I’m working with in Europe, nothing is happening there. And of course I may need to make small corrections on the Chinese version when asked, but I have done that so many times now that it’s easy.

NINE LIVES OF NIM however is back in full swing, or at least back in full swing for me, because it has been playing second fiddle to Wonderland for a while now. I’m doing additional coding and helping with voices and translation, Lauren’s on the voices side of things, and Britney is translating. I expect to be able to release the voice acting update in Jan/Feb. I would estimate a second quarter release for the Chinese version but that’s pure speculation based on how fast Wonderland Nights was.

HER JENTLE HI-NESS will sadly not get focus until Nine Lives is thoroughly out the door, let’s just be honest. I have been doing bits and pieces for it here and there but there is only so much time in the day! But a major question I had for it is now solved, thanks to Lauren, and if you want to hear what she came up with for the problem of what to do with the voices, you can hear that on the most recent episode of the podcast.

SPEAKING OF THE MOST RECENT PODCAST, if you haven’t listened to it, we are running a competition there. On the episode, we cover 7 different game ideas for what I could do next after Her Jentle Hi-ness. If you would like to win our back catalogue (Nine Lives, White Rabbit and the Dragons of Tirenia intro guide) then write to us here or on any of our social accounts before 8th January with what you’d like to see next out of those options, and you’ll be in the draw!

SMALLER PROJECTS, HOME CAMPAIGNS etc. – I am about to finish and release the final chapter of Street Rat. That’s the game/s I have been making since January as part of the monthly Bitsy Game Jam. I have learnt a lot from working with a limited platform and engaging with other people’s creations on the same platform, but now is the time, at the end of the 12-part story, to call it quits. The monthly jams have been fun but they have also been a source of stress as other things in my life have often lead to me leaving it to the last minute and working until the wee hours of the night/morning to get them done. Speaking of other things being a source of stress, James has made a resolution to stop starting new RPG campaigns (haha, good luck!) but rather to finish the ones he has started. I for one am looking forward to getting back to Dirwin, now that baby is sleeping better at night. We won’t be streaming that, but I will be keeping up the Dirwin blog as I always have since the start of it, right here!

PODCAST, STREAMING AND OTHER PERIPHERAL MEDIA – we’ll see how this all goes. James and I have been having fun doing the podcast, but if it becomes a hassle, we might drop it after reaching the one year mark. We’ll see, because he’s got a lot of RPG content he can talk about (we’ll be doing Dark Sun sooner or later!). We have vague plans to do more streaming, especially bi-monthly charity streams. But we do sort of want to wait a bit to improve our production quality a bit before we do any additional dedicated streaming. I dunno, it’s a chicken/egg problem, because what’s the point of expending time on money on improving the stream when there are few viewers, but then also there are few viewers because of the low quality of the stream… But basically the end of that train of thought for me is always that James and I are more interested in doing creative work first and foremost, rather than streaming for the hell of it. If I was able to work on Sky Bear Games full time, perhaps we would become a lot more serious about streaming.

I think that about covers it? But basically we are keeping on keeping on, and hoping that 2021 brings us a little relief from some of the stressors of this year. What were those, and how can we avoid them? Well, I have spoken already about shedding some of the extra commitments, so that will help. Sinking a bunch of money into Armageddon was a rookie mistake, but we have learnt that the hard way. I feel like finally we are starting to bounce back from that both emotionally and financially. I think for both of us, we need to be a bit more serious and say no to each other, especially when whatever grand scheme we come up with involves too much money or time used. We are both waaaaaaaay too good at coming up with exciting new ideas, but I hope that the negative lessons we learnt this year will help us to mature a little past the drive to immediately launch into weak or ill-conceived projects.

But make no mistake, or enthusiasm to get our projects out there for your enjoyment has not diminished. Hopefully we have just improved our ability and capacity to do these things and do them well!

Many blessings for the new year from us!