The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Test of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

First Impressions: Here we are! This really is the end of the story that began all the way back in Dragons of Autumn Twilight. It’s got the best covers too:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: Epic, and so moody! Good composition with lines and triangles structuring it. There’s good use of colour, and clear linking of the two brothers, but they’re also in opposition.
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: Not as good as the original, but still moody and good linking and contrasting of the twins Caramon and Raistlin. They look really similar here.
  • Penguin UK cover: A Penguin cover that actually shows something from the book! Totally badass, but after the composition and theme of the last two, I’m disappointed.
  • Matt Stawicki cover: This is a LOT! I don’t mind it. The composition’s not as strong as the first two, but it’s still very interesting looking. But it’s totally over the top!

A word of warning for Dragonlance beginners: since this is the last book of the second trilogy, you might want to read the plot summary of the previous books here and here before continuing, as it can get a bit hairy from here!

Plot Summary: Caramon and Tasslehoff use the time travel device as Raistlin and Crysania open the portal into the Abyss. The two spells interfere with each other, and Caramon and Tasslehoff find themselves two years ahead of their ‘present day.’ But the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Everything is dead, lightning storms tear apart the sky, and the rearranged stars are going out. They find Tika (Caramon’s wife)’s funeral monument, and Caramon’s dead body at its foot. 

Caramon sees a new hourglass constellation and realises that Raistlin has won. He has overthrown the gods, and this devastation is the result of his victory. The two make their way to the Tower of High Sorcery at Wayreth, where this quest kicked off. They find the last two living beings there. Astinus, the immortal historian of Krynn, is recording how the world ends. Meanwhile, the archmage Par-Salian, who manipulated Raistlin into becoming a weapon to save the world and instead drove him to become a monster, is being tortured by Raistlin by making him watch the end of the world. Caramon and Tasslehoff take the history of the end of the world from Astinus, and go back in time two years, to the present day, to stop Raistlin.

Back in the present day, Lord Soth, Dragon Highlord Kitiara’s death knight ally, has decided that he wants Kitiara for himself. Kitiara has become the lover of Dalamar, Raistlin’s elven apprentice. Soth convinces Kitiara that Dalamar has betrayed her, and is planning to help Raistlin. He then tells Dalamar the same thing. As a result, Kitiara prepares to attack the city of Palanthas to stop Raistlin and Dalamar, while the forces of Good ally with Dalamar to stop Kitiara and Raistlin. If they’d just talked to each other, they could have worked this all out! Then again, even when they get the opportunity later on, no one trusts anyone else. The wages of evil… 

Also caught up in the final battle is Tanis Half-Elven, hero of the last trilogy, who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Tanis, the knights and the good dragons go to fight Kitiara’s army at the High Clerist’s Tower, where Sturm Brightblade died fighting her during the last war. It controls the only road to Palanthas, but everyone is surprised when the evil armies arrive on a flying citadel and bypass the High Clerist’s Tower entirely! Tanis jumps on a dragon and races back to Palanthas, arriving just before the final battle starts.

Meanwhile, Raistlin and Crysania make their way through the Abyss. Raistlin’s magic has failed him, and the Queen of Darkness is torturing him with scenes from his life. Crysania acts as his shield, protecting him again and again. Raistlin manages to regain his magic, but Crysania is overwhelmed by the constant attacks. As she dies, she asks for Raistlin to stay with her as she dies. He abandons her without a thought.

Caramon and Tasslehoff arrive in Palanthas. They look at the book of the future and find that in only a short time, Lord Soth will kill Tanis Half-Elven. Tasslehoff saves Tanis, while Caramon attempts to break into the Tower of High Sorcery here, but its magical protections are too strong. (It occurs to me that people who haven’t read Dragonlance might be getting confused here. There are two Towers of High Sorcery. One’s in a magic forest, with the Conclave of High Sorcery; the other is in the middle of Palanthas, and is owned by Raistlin. There were three more, but they’re gone. Now you know!) The three heroes capture Kitiara’s flying castle and use it to fly to the Tower, bypassing its defences.

Meanwhile, Raistlin is exhausted from fighting the Dark Queen, but is winning. He is now making his way to the Portal, where he will return to this world with Takhisis in pursuit. In this world, Raistlin will be the stronger, and will be able to defeat Takhisis. His apprentice Dalamar is waiting to stop him. Kitiara manages to break into the tower, and fights Dalamar. The two of them nearly kill each other, and Dalamar is only saved by the arrival of the heroes. Lord Soth appears and claims the dying Kitiara for himself.

Caramon is the last person left who can stop Raistlin. He enters the Abyss and finds Crysania, who’s slowly dying. He then meets Raistlin, and tells him that he’ll succeed, but that he’ll destroy everything in the process, until in the end he consumes himself, and even then will still be an empty voice screaming in the void for eternity. Raistlin realises that his victory is empty, and that he’s destroying the people that he cares about in the process. Raistlin hands his staff to Caramon and tells him to escape with Crysania, and then holds off Takhisis himself, saving everyone at the cost of being tortured forever at her hands. But even as he is torn to pieces and does not die, he is protected by the memories of his brother. 

The battle is over. With Kitiara dead and Lord Soth departed, the armies of evil have been defeated, though the city is destroyed. Crysania is healed of her injuries, although she has permanently lost her vision. At the same time, she has gained wisdom, and becomes the new leader of the Church. Caramon returns home to Tika, having gained self-actualisation, and they live happily ever after. Tasslehoff finds that he’s still got the time travel device, and sets off on a new adventure.

The Good: I enjoyed this one immensely! Every dangling plot thread is brought together into a rousing climax. While Chronicles ended with a Frodo-esque attempt to infiltrate the land of the enemy to undo them from within with a cursed artifact, Legends takes its cue from the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Even then, Weis and Hickman are reluctant to waste time on meaningless sequences of violence and keep the focus firmly on our characters. 

Lots of characters and locations from throughout the six books to date return – Tanis, Lord Gunthar, Kirsah the bronze dragon, the High Clerist’s Tower, the flying citadel, the Tower of Wayreth – which ties together all the books so far.  This book’s key theme seems to be self-knowledge. Crysania’s fate has been extremely telegraphed, but she finally finds wisdom as she is broken. Caramon learns how to become his own man, neither dependent on Raistlin or wanting to murder him. Raistlin finally accepts that his quest for power is pointless and self-defeating. 

I don’t really have a lot to say here. Everything is good, and it all works well. 

The Neutral: This book is mostly set in 357 A.C., apart from Caramon and Tasslehoff’s visit to an alternate 357 A.C. While it mostly wraps up all the loose ends, there’s a few sequels. The short story The Legacy, from The Magic of Krynn continues the story of Raistlin, and I’ll be reading it next time! Meanwhile, Lord Soth’s story continues in Knight of the Black Rose, which takes him out of Krynn to the world of Ravenloft! Although Weis and Hickman aren’t fond of it, it is canon, so I’ll be reading it further down the track. There are also some tie-in RPG books that have been published over the years. The original campaign setting, Dragonlance Adventures, assumes that your players will want to play out the plot of this trilogy, so it details the characters and gives some ideas about how to do this. Much later on, the Legends of the Twins book uses this trilogy as a starting point to explore time travel and alternate timelines.

I also found the answer to my question from last time. How did the Portal get from Zhaman to the Tower in Palanthas? This book implies that it moved itself. That’s magic for you!

At the end of the book, Tasslehoff finds a map with the city of ‘Merilor’ marked on it. This is the setting of Weis & Hickman’s next series, The Darksword Trilogy. It’s not a D&D tie-in, however, so it’s outside the scope of this series.

The Evil:

…I’ve got nothing. Sure, it’s not Tolstoy, but then it was never meant to be. I could criticise it for still using problematic Dragonlance elements like gully dwarves, but it feels a bit unfair to penalise every single book for that, and they’re handled better here than in other books. 

Maybe we could have had more Raistlin and less Tanis?

Actually, one thing I would have liked – and this is true for the entire trilogy, not just this book – is more showing how powerful Raistlin was, rather than just telling us. There was a lot of focus on his weaknesses, but mostly his strength was communicated by how other characters reacted to him. I’m remembering Lord Soth bowing to him in Time of the Twins as one example of this. Most of Raistlin’s big magical feats, such as his battles with Fistandantilus, Takhisis, and her minions in the Abyss, take place off-stage; the only real demonstration of his immense strength is when he incinerated the plague village in War of the Twins. Then again, action scenes are pretty pointless and boring if they’re just an excuse for an omnipotent character to show off, so I’m very happy with the focus on characterisation, thoughts, emotions and relationships over Hollywood-esque pointless spectacle.

Final Rating: 5 Disks of Mishakal out of 5. This is about as good as D&D tie-in fiction will ever get, and better than it has any right to be. 

I found it hilarious that the end of this book has a postscript saying goodbye to Dragonlance. This is the last Weis & Hickman book – for now! – but the massive success of the first six books led to the publication of hundreds more books in the series. First up, we have the Tales trilogy of short story anthologies, so I’ll be reading the first of these, The Magic of Krynn.

Dev blog #42 – Where everybody knows your name

I don’t often talk about my day job, the one that I have been at for the last five years, not counting the previous five weeks. Straight out of programming school, I was hired as a software tester by Aderant, a company that develops software for lawyers and law firms. The HR Manager told me he was taking a big risk employing someone with no background in software. It was a bizzare sideways step from my arts and teaching background. But a few months later after delivering my graduation project he told me he had absolutely no regrets.

My first manager there realised that as someone a little less technical in background, I had a knack for sympathising with the user, and as an ex-English teacher I was perfectly nitpicky with spelling and little details like that. Often devs don’t want to worry themselves with little details like that, but let me tell you, a simple spelling mistake can utterly ruin your product’s professional image! Also, over time as I became more familiar with the product and became a bit of an expert in my particular area, I got to use my teaching and presentation skills when leading tutorial sessions, be they small or large. All of the training on the job, as well as the natural attention to detail I have, mean that I have been able to test both my major game releases in-house. And while any tester can tell you that, ideally, no dev should be testing their own work, so far there have been no bugs found in the English versions of my two major releases. So that’s something, until I can afford a tester of my own 🙂

When I got the job offer in theatre, it caught me at a particularly opportune moment. I was feeling a little worn out from over a year of working at home at various times, having a toddler on my hands and all that. All of this added up to a general dissatisfaction with life, and so a leap to theatre, my first passion as a young adult, was an extremely attractive prospect. What can it hurt, I thought. I even said in my exit interview, if this new career doesn’t work out, I’d love to come back to Aderant.

And so after a five week VERY MUCH NOT A HOLIDAY HAHAHA… here I sit back at my desk at Aderant. I am so, so, so happy to be back. My wonderful colleagues have all welcomed me back warmly. People are already asking me questions and treating me like an expert in my area of the product on only the second day back. I’m straight back into the swing of things as if I never left. I am so at home here. I forgot, when I thought theatre would be a nice change, that I am at heart an introvert, and that even while I might enjoy playing the extrovert on stage from time to time, I actually get healing from working on my computer all day amongst other introverts, occassionally stopping for a chat with the colleagues then getting back down to work. Everyone here is respected and trusted to be competent and responsible. It’s absolutely the best, most supportive workplace I’ve ever worked at, and I am so, so grateful to be able to come back. Earlier this week I felt a little like the spouse who strayed, then came back begging because I never knew what I was missing until I left. But I haven’t been treated like that, instead I’ve been welcomed back with no reprimands and that’s… honestly just refreshing, to have such honest and mature dealings!

All my little desk friends are back where we belong!

Ok so that’s my little non-gaming bit over, thanks for reading. This week things have been a little higgeldy-piggeldy as I have gotten back into the swing of things. My first sweep through the fully voiced and sound effect’ed Nine Lives presented a few bugs here and there that need fixing before I continue, so I think realistically I’m not getting this release out until the end of May. That will be a nice two year anniversary for the game!

I also have some feedback from the German build of White Rabbit to look at so there’s more work when I can get to it. Thank goodness it’s Easter this weekend, so I’ll have a little extra time to work on these!

Tonight James and I are recording an episode of the podcast where I will be leading the discussion for once! It’s about Pokemon. I am pretty hyped 😀

James has been plugging away at his Dragonlance reviews and working on Dragons of Tirenia. I’m so excited for his next roleplaying campaign. He has more ideas than either of us are reasonably able to produce as fully realised content… and I have more game ideas than I can possibly make too… Not trying to brag, just saying!

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – War of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman

First Impressions: The only certainties in life are death, taxes, and that there’s more Dragonlance books to review! It certainly helps that I’m in the middle of the Legends trilogy, the high watermark of role-playing tie-in fiction. Before I get into it, we have the covers, though there’s not much to say about them.

  • Original and Reprint Larry Elmore cover: These are so similar that we’ve bundled them together this time. Claire says: “My thing with the first two covers is that these two people are dressed and look like they should be on a romance novel cover. But of course they aren’t romantic, so it’s just awkward.” Haha! This book almost is a romance novel in places. I like the first one the most: Crysania might be more cheesecake-y, but there’s more emotion and a stronger composition. The revised cover looks too static for me.
  • Penguin UK Larry Elmore cover: Claire says: “I sort of love this but even with how little I know of Dragonlance, I’m fairly sure that these are not the two main characters in the book, and I’m willing to bet money on this scene not happening in the book.” She’s right – it’s Laurana standing over Sturm’s dead body, from Dragons of Winter Night. It’s a massive spoiler for the first trilogy, with two characters who don’t even appear in this trilogy! That said, it is a fantastic piece of art.
  • Matt Stawicki cover: “As usual I like the greater dose of action posing in the fourth cover, and I appreciate the Tasselhoff cameo for once. Pretty cool!” I like Matt Stawicki’s art generally, but I’m not a fan of this one myself. I find the characters a bit too small, and the scene is just generic posing, with a griffon that barely features in the book in the background.

Plot Summary: Caramon, Raistlin and Crysania travel through time and return to the Tower of High Sorcery in Palanthas. Raistlin is very weak from casting the time-travel spell, and Caramon is still blind (Crysania cast a spell on him to stop him killing Raistlin at the end of the last book, you may remember.) It’s now several decades after the Cataclysm, but still hundreds of years before their own time. Raistlin plans to use the portal to the Abyss that the wizards have stashed there but finds that someone moved it for safekeeping. Oops! 

Side note – the portal is back there in the modern day. Given that no one can enter the Tower, how did it get back there? The only person who could have moved it is Raistlin, but if he did, he’d know it wasn’t here now. I wonder if this will be addressed in the next book, or if it’s just a big old continuity error.

Anyway, the gate is in an old wizard stronghold called Zhaman, in the land of the mountain dwarves. And ever since the Cataclysm, the mountain dwarves aren’t accepting visitors. The three travel south, picking up an army of renegade knights, plainsmen and hill dwarves who want to attack the mountain dwarves and steal their hoarded food and treasure. The mountain dwarves themselves know that there is no food or treasure, not that the invaders believe them, and so the Dwarfgate War begins.

Our heroes, coming from the future, are pretty upset because they know how this is all going to end. According to the rules of time travel, no member of a race created by the gods can change time – all they can do is change the details. So they know that Raistlin is going to fail to open the gate, causing an explosion that will kill them and their army. They all wrestle with this, and Crysania even tries to change destiny by bringing back worship of the true gods. Unfortunately, she goes to a plague village, and only manages to convert the last survivor, who dies that night. The past cannot be changed.

At least, not by them. Tasslehoff the kender is able to change the past. (Kender were created by a magical accident, not by intelligent design.) He wakes up in the Abyss, where the Temple of Istar got transported after the Cataclysm. Tas meets with the Dark Queen Takhisis, who plans to use him to change the outcome of the Chronicles trilogy. He also meets with Gnimsh, the gnome who invented the time travel device that Tas broke at the end of the last book. Gnimsh repairs it and the two escape. Raistlin finds them and murders Gnimsh. Raistlin is convinced that this means he’s averted fate. Tasslehoff finds Caramon and saves him from being murdered, and then the two escape with the time travel device back to their own time, as Raistlin and Crysania go through the portal into the Abyss. The spells still interfere with each other, causing the explosion that destroys Zhaman and the armies fighting outside, but this time Raistlin survives to continue his quest…

The Good: For all that Raistlin was the driver of the plot in the last book, we never had a chance to see inside his head there. War of the Twins finally puts the archmage, and his relationships with the other characters, centre-stage. There’s a reason why Raistlin is such a fascinating character. This book portrays him as a complicated set of contradictions. He’s at turns tender and ruthless, empathic and heartless, vulnerable and indomitable, caring and callous. His evil deeds are never excused, and his motives remain consistent regardless of what facet of his character he’s demonstrating. While I didn’t enjoy his relationship with Crysania (more about which, below), this book more than any other really shows us the deep bonds of caring and abuse between him and Caramon, which is the heart of this trilogy. I also found the scene with the gully dwarves – who are usually just the butt of every joke – extremely affecting. Raistlin, finding an army of gully dwarves dead after a battle, briefly believes that time can be changed because none of the history books ever mentioned them taking part. He quickly realises that the reason that the gully dwarves weren’t mentioned was because no one cared enough about them. 

While the last book was about free will – how Raistlin could choose evil, Crysania could choose to follow him, and Caramon could choose to destroy himself with alcoholism – this book is about predestination. The characters grapple with the fact that their destinies are written, and no action they can take can change them. This gives a great sense of dramatic irony to the events of the Dwarfgate War, as they hurtle towards seeming destruction.

The Neutral: War of the Twins was released in May 1986. This book is set in 39 A.C., almost three hundred years before the Chronicles trilogy. Weis and Hickman use this to give us characters who are like precursors to the original cast. Darknight the Plainsman is a proto-Riverwind, Michael the ex-knight is repeatedly compared to Sturm, and Flint Fireforge’s grandfather Reghar Fireforge is the leader of the hill dwarves. Reghar also has a weak heart, and the authors note that this runs in the family – it’s this heart condition that killed Flint in the Chronicles trilogy. 

The ruined fortress of Zhaman, since renamed Skullcap, and the hidden gates to the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin, were a major plot point in the original DL3 and DL4 modules. This story was omitted from the original Chronicles trilogy but was finally detailed in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths.

The Bad: As much as I enjoyed this book, it definitely suffers from being the middle book of a trilogy. I came to realise that nothing important happens in this book. Caramon, Raistlin, Crysania and Tasslehoff end this book in fundamentally the same place that they began it, and the whole plot with having to chase down the portal to the Abyss is really just spinning wheels. Raistlin and Crysania could have entered the Abyss at the end of Time of the Twins, while Caramon and Tasslehoff headed back to their own time, and the outcome would have been fundamentally the same.  

I also continue to dislike Crysania as a character. This time around, my problem is more about her sexualisation. Both Raistlin and Caramon are sexually attracted to her, she’s attracted to Raistlin, she almost gets raped by bandits, and she gets physically assaulted by Raistlin when she attempts to seduce him. We also have the tiresome trope of her virginity being the source of her virtue. It’s not pleasant, and it’s a problem when she’s the only female character in the book – save for brief cameos from Kitiara and Takhisis, both of whom have their evil thoroughly intertwined with their sexuality. I smell Tracy Hickman’s Mormonism behind this! I did, however, like Crysania’s doomed attempt at proactivity, when she tried to change time by bringing back worship of the True Gods.

Conclusion: As I write this, I’m ripping through the final book in the trilogy, so I feel confident in saying that I feel this is the weakest book in the trilogy. Still, it does sterling work with the characterisation and relationship of Caramon and Raistlin, and earns three and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five.

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Time of the Twins, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

First Impressions: Hello everyone and welcome to another Dragonlance review! This fortnight I’ve been reading Time of the Twins, the first book of the Legends trilogy. I have very fond memories of the Legends trilogy. I showed Claire the covers and she was pretty positive about them this time too:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: I actually sorta like it, Raistlin looks like a freak but that’s the point. The colour choices all work for me, it’s old school, sure, but it works.
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t like #2 as much with the lady looking more vulnerable. I liked her looking normal but like… oblivious? Whereas vulnerable just sort of amplifies Raistlin’s sense of evil more. Colour choices aren’t as good for me as #1, but it’s fine.
  • Penguin Books UK Keith Parkinson cover: What is even going on? Who are these people? It’s the revenge of the frickin’ UK covers again. (James – at least this one actually happens in this book!)
  • Matt Stawicki cover: #4 My line of sight goes ok, Raistlin, looking tender, that’s weird…. ok, girl looking all cheesecakey, sure…. WHO THE F IS MAN-BOOBS IN THE BACK?!

Plot Summary: It’s been two years since the War of the Lance ended, and Raistlin (since his massive and as-yet unexplained level-up at the end of the first trilogy) has decided to conquer the gods. Conquering the world is too easy and too passé, so he’s going to go into the Abyss and throw down with Takhisis, the Queen of Darkness herself. He needs the help of a good-aligned cleric to get there, so he’s started flirting with Crysania, a naïve and arrogant young priestess who isn’t sure if she wants to convert Raistlin or get her hands on his Staff of Magius. Raistlin’s sister, the Dragon Highlord Kitiara, finds out what he’s planning and vows to stop him.

Crysania decides to seek the help of the assembled wizards in their Tower of High Sorcery, and is escorted there by two Heroes of the Lance – Raistlin’s brother Caramon and Tasslehoff, the kender. However, during the last two years, Caramon has become an obese alcoholic to cover for his severe mental health problems, and Tasslehoff is, well, Tasslehoff. Crysania gets attacked by Kitiara’s undead henchman Lord Soth and puts herself in magical time-out to survive. Caramon and Tasslehoff take her to the Tower. There, the wizards reveal that Raistlin has been possessed by an ancient wizard called Fistandantilus – this is how he managed to level up so quickly – and he’s gone back in time to learn from Fisty as the next step in his plan. Caramon and Crysania get sent back in time too, so that the ancient clerics can heal Crysania, and Tasslehoff hitches a ride with them as well.

Istar, in the days of the Kingpriest! Great holy city of Goodness and self-righteous hypocrisy, just before the Cataclysm when the gods will get sick of the Kingpriest’s nonsense and drop a nuke on him – along with everyone else in the world. Bit harsh, Gods! Caramon and Tasslehoff are immediately arrested and sold as slaves to the arena. Here, it turns out that the clerics have banned bloodshed, so the gladiators are doing Roman-themed WWE instead. Caramon sobers up and gets back into shape. Crysania is healed and decides that this is the Best. Place. Ever! 

Caramon sneaks out of the Arena at night to murder Fisty, so that he won’t be able to get his hooks into Raistlin. However, he finds that Raistlin actually beat him to the punch already, and has taken Fisty’s place as resident Evil Wizard. Awkward! Crysania’s even more thrilled, while Caramon gets upset about whether free will means that people can do stupid and/or evil things. Tasslehoff decides to use their time travel device to stop the Cataclysm. Raistlin thinks this is a great idea, and gives him pointers.

The Gods start sending mystic signs that they’re on the verge of losing their temper with the Kingpriest. Why they couldn’t just send him a firmly worded letter, I don’t know. It might have been less open to misinterpretation, maybe? Crysania gets disillusioned with Istar, and Raistlin uses this to sway her to his side. They also get the hots for each other. That’s going to be (even more) awkward! Caramon wins the grand finals of the arena and breaks out to murder Raistlin, but Crysania stops him and Raistlin teleports them all away as the Cataclysm strikes. 

Meanwhile, Tasslehoff uses the time travel artifact to stop the Cataclysm. The artifact promptly breaks. Raistlin had lied to him. And now he’s at ground zero as the sky starts raining fire…

The Good: This is so much better than Chronicles in every single way. There’s a vastly reduced cast, and far less stuff happens than the last trilogy. As a result, we have a much tighter story. We spend more time in the heads of our main characters, and get to watch them grow. In particular, Caramon gets a lot of attention. Sometimes his problems were played for laughs (especially his muffin dream), but generally, I feel like Weis and Hickman made a real shot at portraying the horrors of addiction, and the psychological wounds underlying it. It didn’t always ring true, but I credit them for trying to tell a complex story like this in the Eighties in a Dungeons & Dragons novel. Caramon’s relationship to Raistlin also gets a lot of attention, as he grapples with the realisation that his brother is irredeemable.

I also found the set-pieces and world-building more fun this time around, since the authors had a bit more time to breathe. Istar is a fun setting – it’s like going to Vesuvius just before the volcano explodes. I really enjoyed the Great Games, and how the gladiators use fake weapons and have silly costumes and backstories. Then Caramon discovers that the rich and powerful use the Games as part of their political manoeuvring, by arranging for ‘accidents’ to befall their rivals’ gladiators, and it adds a sinister and deadly undertone for the rest of the book.

Tasslehoff continues to be my favourite character. Capital-G Good characters like the Kingpriest and the elves continue to be awful, but Tasslehoff’s character development in the last book has made him compassionate, empathetic, and loyal, without taking away his sense of childish wonder at the world. I liked how much he enjoyed being teleported by Raistlin into a duck pond. 

The Neutral: This first half of the book is set in the year 355 AC, until the character travel back in time to 1 PC. It’s the first book not to be based on any existing adventures. The city of Istar will be revisited in the future in the short story collection The Reign of Istar, and the full story of the rise and fall of the Kingpriest will be told in the Kingpriest Trilogy, but I won’t be getting to read that for a few more years. There is also an excellent short story in the anthology The Dragons of Chaos which shows an alternate reality where the Cataclysm never happened and the Kingpriest successfully forced the Gods to do his bidding. It’s pretty dystopian.

The Bad: Even though I enjoyed this book very much, it’s got its share of problems – more than I remembered from when I was younger. The writing style is still not great in places. Once again, I blame Tracy Hickman, since he himself has admitted to a tendency towards purple prose. There was one section that stood out as particularly bad: a cleric reflecting on the importance of the city of Istar.

‘One might have supposed…the cleric was insensible of the fact that he was walking in the heart of the universe. But Denubis was not insensible of this fact. Lest he should, the Kingpriest reminded him of it daily in his morning call to prayers.

“We are the heart of the universe,” the Kingpriest would say…’

I get what Weis and Hickman are trying to do here; use the repetition to imply how often the Kingpriest has repeated that Istar is the heart of the universe, but it just comes across as clunky. There are also some overused adjectives. Crysania is like ivory, Raistlin is cynical and sarcastic. 

Crysania herself, I felt, was underwritten. She’s presented to use initially as a very unlikeable character. Not that there’s anything wrong with an unlikeable character – quite the opposite, it gives her considerable room to grow, and that’s a wonderful thing. However, there are frequently large gaps between her appearances, where the writers rely upon the reader’s knowledge, rather than Crysania’s knowledge, to drive her character development. When she first arrives in Istar, Crysania is enraptured at how Good (seemingly) has triumphed and is convinced that the Kingpriest cannot be to blame for the coming Cataclysm. When we next see her, six chapters later, she’s disillusioned by what she sees. In that time, we’ve seen Caramon exploring the hypocrisy of Istar, but not Crysania. 

I’ve said before that I have issues with Dragonlance’s Old Testament theology, and that continues to be the case here, as we see the Gods send the Cataclysm to kill millions of people. Good, unchecked, becomes just as awful as Evil – but doesn’t that make it not Good any more? The Good Gods seem to promote the balance of Good and Evil more than they promote Goodness, and their chosen children, the elves, are just awful – look at Quarath, the Kingpriest’s second-in-command, for another example of self-satisfied ‘Goodness.’ The true believers amongst the clergy are taken away to avoid the Cataclysm, but I cannot believe that everyone in Istar, everyone who suffers during the Cataclysm, is actually deserving of what happens. 

Conclusion: I remember this being one of the best fantasy books I read – not just for tie-in fiction, but in general – during my youth. Revisiting Time of the Twins, I can see that part of that was nostalgia talking, but it’s considerably better than it needed to be. For all that the execution could have been improved, this is an ambitious character-driven drama. I was happy to re-read it, and I’m looking forward to the next book. Four Disks of Mishakal out of five. 

The Great DRAGONLANCE Re-Read – Super Endless Quest / Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebooks

Who remembers Choose Your Own Adventure? Pick-a-path books were a huge part of my childhood. Dungeons & Dragons decided to get in on that bandwagon with Endless Quest. This was the spinoff series, proper gamebooks with character sheets and dice and rules and everything. They were called Super Endless Quest, but fortunately someone realised that was a terrible name and it got changed pretty quickly. Four of them were Dragonlance tie-ins, so that’s what I’m reading this fortnight!

A change of format for this one: since I’m reviewing a number of short books, I’ll do a section on each one of them, where I’ll look at them holistically, rather than breaking each one down into good, bad and neutral. I’ll do the same thing when I reach the short story anthologies. 

Also, this is the first time that I’ll be skipping a book! Alas, I don’t have a copy of The Soulforge by Terry Phillips. This book is about Raistlin’s backstory, written by the man who was instrumental in shaping the character during the early playtest sessions. However, since the same story is covered in a short story in The Magic of Krynn, and then expanded out into a full novel, The Soulforge, I don’t feel too bad about missing the gamebook version. If I ever find a copy, I’ll come back and do a review of it.

Prisoners of Pax Tharkas, by Morris Simon: This is the first book in the entire series. I’m not sure if they wanted to use this to get people into Dragonlance, or if they wanted to use Dragonlance to get people into this series. The cover is by Keith Parkinson, who’s usually pretty good, but… oof! I guess everyone has an off day. Awkward poses, cheesecake art, and that moustache! Claire says: “HAHAHAHAHAHA wow, this is beyond 80s! This is some He-Man stuff. It is everything.”

In this book, you are Bern Vallenshield, a ranger, and no one will let you forget it – seriously, everyone uses your full name at every opportunity. It is set just between the two parts of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, in the town of Solace. Somehow, you don’t seem to know about the Heroes of the Lance, even though they’re all adventurers of the same age as you from the same small village. They get mentioned in passing at one point as having just left town. Anyway, you return to Solace one day to find it burnt down by the Dragonarmies, and your kid brother Kegan has been captured and taken to the iron mines at Pax Tharkas! The first time I played, I caught up with the prison wagon and rescued him without too much trouble before they ever reached Pax Tharkas, but the book hinted that this was not the ‘ideal’ ending, so I tried again. The second time, I got captured too, escaped inside Pax Tharkas, met Willow Lighthand the kender and Essa the elf, and then did a little dungeon crawl through the fortress and the elvish secret entrance, ending by finding the secret tomb of the elf-king Kith-Kanan.

This book is not great, guys! Bern Vallenshield is an extremely dull character. That’s pretty standard for a pick-a-path protagonist, since the reader has to be able to project on to them. The supporting cast are equally dull. Your brother has no personality either, and the other two NPCs that you meet are ‘a kender’ and ‘beautiful’ – that’s the extent of their characterisation! The mechanics of the book are clunky too. You roll one die and add your skill to resolve a task, but in combat you roll two dice. In addition, if you fail a combat roll you can reroll until you succeed, taking damage until you succeed, but the book does not make this clear in each paragraph. The book fits awkwardly into continuity with Dragons of Autumn Twilight too. You visit many of the same locations as the main characters do, but are unable to enact any sort of change, since it’s up to them to defeat the Dragon Highlords and rescue the rest of the prisoners. Nothing very exciting or dramatic happens. I did see that you can fight the Dragon Highlord Verminaard and his dragon, but that you’re destined to lose, no matter what, if you do. The worst example of this railroaded lack of agency is when you find the magic sword Wyrmslayer. Even though your companion came here specifically to find it and use it against the dragons, you all decide to leave it behind, so that the Heroes of the Lance can find it. 

I also wonder who this book is meant for. The earlier Endless Quest books were definitely aimed at children, just like the Dungeons & Dragons TV show (anyone remember that?). However, the Dragonlance series, with its more mature subject matter and Tolkienesque tone, is definitely for young adults. I can’t help but feel that anyone who enjoyed this would find Dragons of Autumn Twilight boring, and vice versa. Also, because it covers so much of the same ground as the novel and the adventure novel that it’s based on, I can’t help but feel that it’s just giving a whole lot of spoilers for them. 

I also noticed a small continuity error: the dragon Matafleur is consistently referred to as ‘Mataflure.’ 

All in all, one Disk of Mishakal out of five. It’s not actively offensive, but it’s about as exciting as a dry piece of toast. 

Lords of Doom by Douglas Niles: This is the tenth book in the series, but the second one that is (a) based on Dragonlance and (b) in my possession. In Dragons of Spring Dawning, an important plot point – the secret of the Draconians, the dragon-man foot soldiers of the bad guys – is glossed over quickly. This is the full story of how Gilthanas and Silvara infiltrated the stronghold of the Dragon Highlords, the volcano city of Sanction, discovered the origin of the Draconians, and won the aid of the good dragons for the war. It’s a pretty straight adaptation of Dragons of Deceit, the D&D adventure module, and even by the same author! The cover to this one, by Larry Elmore, is much better than the cover of the previous book, with an exciting action shot of our heroes on the deck of a ship, watching flying draconians heading their way from an enemy ship. Claire and I agreed: there’s just one problem… “Uggggggggggh that is too much cheesecake. I quite like the action poses of the ship, the enemies, the people except for Silvara. She’s in a stupid boob/butt pose, though it’s the less common sideboob pose…”

This is a definite improvement over the previous book. It tells an important part of the story, and your actions actually have consequences for the greater narrative. I criticised Prisoners of Pax Tharkas for not knowing who its audience was – this one is solidly aimed at Dragonlance fans who want to discover the missing piece of the story. It’s still not great at characterisation – few gamebooks are. Gilthanas and Silvara have an unrequited love for one another but this is just a narrow slice of the story that plays out in the other books, and has no pay off or development here. However, Fizban the Fabulous is a lot more fun than any of the companions from the last book. There’s also a choice about which route to take to get to Sanction, which is a classic gamebook strategy to enable replayability. The sea route is the more enjoyable of the two. The land route is dull as heck.

That said, this book felt extremely easy. I rolled very, very badly, and I was absolutely convinced I was done for, but I still made it through to the end without a problem. Apart from the decision of which way to travel at the beginning, there seemed to be fewer branching paths this time around, and I didn’t see any insta-deaths. Not that I want insta-deaths, but this book just felt like it wanted to be a novel, rather than a gamebook. It’s slightly strange that, to the best of my knowledge, this story never got re-visited later, as so many of the other deleted scenes were. 

The dialogue isn’t wonderful – but then, what gamebook has good dialogue? – and there’s a few continuity errors: Gilthanas fights at the High Clerist’s Tower, while in the novels, he’s already departed when that battle starts; in the novels, he refers to a secret female ally in Sanction, while here, it’s a male. By the standards of some of the continuity errors later on, these ones aren’t that big.

Overall ranking: One and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. A better book than Prisoners of Pax Tharkas, but a worse game.

Shadows Over Nordmaar by Dezra Despain: We’ve saved the best for last! This is the sixteenth book in the series, but it’s the first Dragonlance tie-in with a completely original story. I wish I could say that much about the cover: it continues the classic trend of recycling art completely out of context. It’s a good picture of Kitiara and Lord Soth in a scene from the Legends trilogy.  Claire found it a bit much in its 80s-ness: “It took me a while to get what was happening, mostly because that outfit is too much. It took me a while to look around the figure.”

Shadows Over Nordmaar is set 25 years after the Chronicles trilogy, in 377 A.C. I think that makes it the furthest ahead in the timeline we’ll be going for quite a while!  You are ‘Jonn’, who’s been beaten up and left for dead on the moors of Nordmaar. Lorina, a cleric of Mishakal (goddess of healing), rescues you and lets you know that the remnants of the Dragonarmies have invaded Nordmaar. However, your attack has left you amnesiac, and the only clues that you have to your identity are a ring, a feather and a pouch of herbs. Can you save Nordmaar?

The first thing I noticed once I started reading this book is that the font size is considerably smaller than the other books! As a result, Shadows is much more descriptive, with better prose, than either of the other two books. All three books feature a romantic relationship between the main character and a supporting character; this felt like the only one that showed that relationship occurring, rather than just telling me that it was happening. Lorina, your companion, also gets more detail than any of the other sidekick characters.

The plot itself in this book is also far more interesting than the other two. I’m always a sucker for a mystery, but this one has not one, but two! At the beginning of the book, you’re given a choice about going north or west. Depending on which way you go, you get a completely different story! You’re a different person, with a different quest, different payoffs for the three items, a different villain, and a different resolution to the love story. I also appreciate a few less-common D&D monsters getting used: I can’t think of another thing that features lammasu so prominently!

There are problems, of course, and I’m not sure that the book wouldn’t have been better served having only one story and fleshing it out more. Once you’ve decided which of the two plots you’re going to follow, there are very few decision points. Most paragraphs end with dice rolls instead, so you’re locked on a railroad once you get going. I also felt like the difficulty was pretty high. It seemed like most of the dice rolls had less than a 50% chance of success, and to succeed at the final challenge, you need to have succeeded at all the rolls that let you regain your lost memories. 

Overall ranking: Two and a half Disks of Mishakal out of five. The extremely linear nature of the two stories keeps it from getting a higher score, but I did enjoy this one. 

That’s it for gamebooks, everyone! I’ve got a treat ahead of me next time: it’s the Time of the Twins, the first book of the Legends Trilogy. I remember this trilogy being the absolute best that Dragonlance had to offer. Will it still hold up? Let’s find out!

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

First Impression: The end of Chronicles is here at last! This is the shortest review so far – most of what I’ve said so far is true for this book as well. Once again, I showed Claire the cover art and asked her what she thought about it. Here’s her thoughts:

  • Original Larry Elmore cover: This is one of the most 80s things I have ever seen. Happy to see that green dragon is looking a little more threatening than its photobombing predecessors
  • Reprint Larry Elmore cover: I don’t 100% know why, maybe it’s the green and red contrasts in these last two covers, but I am liking these covers a lot. The dragon looks way too friendly and calm though. And geez that armour is camp. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.
  • UK cover by Keith Parkinson: So I am becoming familiar with the pattern of Dragonlance covers through the ages, and I get the feeling like this event depicted doesn’t even happen in this book? I quite like it in terms of an action image, although I also get the feeling that it is weirdly positioned/cropped. It’s nice to actually feel the threat from the dragon for once, and to see a character in an action pose rather than posing for the camera (James: She’s right – it’s the climax of Dragons of Winter Night; terribly cropped, once again. Why are the UK covers so bad?!)
  • Matt Stawicki cover: Okay I actually really like this one, I think it’s the mistiness of the background and the detail of the architecture behind the characters. On the negative side, I find the poses really awkward. But their clothing looks way more appealing to my modern sensibilities compared to the 80s stuff

Plot Summary: Tanis Half-Elven sneaks out on his girlfriend Kitiara, the Dragon HIghlord in the middle of the night and he and his companions try to escape. Kitiara chases after him on a dragon, but the ship is sucked into a whirlpool made of blood! Raistlin betrays the party and magics himself away just before the ship goes underwater. Fortunately, passing sea elves rescue the drowning adventurers and put them ashore along with the ship’s helmsman, Berem – an immortal MacGuffin who can win or lose the war. Meanwhile, Tanis’ other girlfriend, the elf princess Laurana, becomes the Golden General, in charge of the armies of Good. With the help of the good dragons, who have finally returned, and wielding the dragonlances, Laurana is able to win a series of major victories. However, she abandons her armies when Kitiara lies and tells her Tanis is hurt, and is captured in a very obvious trap. Our scattered heroes finally reunite and go to Neraka, the HQ of the Dragonarmies, to rescue Laurana and use Berem to win the war. Caramon, Tika, and Tasslehoff have to complete a final dungeon crawl with Berem to stop the dark goddess Takhisis, while Tanis has to choose which girlfriend he likes more. Suddenly, Raistlin returns – but now he’s Super-Saiyan Raistlin (except his robes turned black instead of his hair going golden) Thanks to this Raistlin-ex-machina, the heroes are victorious – but Kitiara takes control of the remaining Dragonarmies, and Raistlin is now free to pursue his own nefarious plans…

The Good: Once again, the characters continue to be the best part of this series. Weis and Hickman make an extremely sensible decision to not make the climax be the defeat of the Queen of Darkness – her brief appearance is impressive, but she’s too abstract a character to be an effective primary antagonist. Instead, the climax of the novel is the resolution of Tanis’ internal conflict, and the confrontation between the brothers Caramon and Raistlin. 

I’d forgotten how long it took him to appear, but the most legendarily badass character in Dragonlance finally appeared halfway through this book: Lord Soth, the undead Knight of the Black Rose! He has virtually nothing to do here, but he makes such an impression. I remembered him being more style than substance, but that’s not a problem here, and he’s got so much style!

My favourite character, to my surprise, wound up being Tasslehoff! I think it’s because I now have a toddler, but I appreciate his empathy, his innocence and his curiosity. His character development to become wiser, sadder, and more mature – in other words, his loss of innocence – happens slowly and organically.

The Neutral: This book is set in 352 A.C. It covers material from the eighth, tenth, and especially the climactic twelfth adventures. The eighth adventure, in which Gilthanas and Silvara infiltrate the enemy stronghold of Sanction to discover the secret origin of the draconians and recruit the good dragons to their side, is summarized by them in a single chapter after they return: the story is told more fully in Lords of Doom, a pick-a-path book. Meanwhile, the story of Raistlin’s rise to near omnipotence would not be covered until Dragons of the Hourglass Mage, published twenty-four years later!

The Bad: I got the feeling, reading this, that Weis and Hickman had lost interest in this book even before they started writing it. Their hearts were clearly set on telling their own original story about the wizard Raistlin, and so this book serves more as a bridge to set up the following Legends trilogy than a grand finale to this story. Characters are dropped along the wayside so that the story can focus on those who will be important next time: Raistlin, Caramon, Tasslehoff, and Kitiara. As a result, major revelations like the origins of the draconians are hurried, while the mystery of what’s been going on with Raistlin is deferred to be covered in Legends. 

Other major plot points are nonsensical. Laurana’s decision to go running after Tanis is particularly egregious. I was reading the Annotated Chronicles, in which both Weis and Hickman agree that Laurana’s decision is forced and out of character. Berem’s backstory, which is vital for the resolution of the war, also doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. The only thing stopping Takhisis the dragon goddess from conquering the world is getting the gem out of his chest – that she put there herself?

Final Impressions: Three Disks of Mishakal out of five. Weis and Hickman have done an admirable job wrestling twelve D&D adventures into three novels. By modern standards, the Chronicles trilogy doesn’t really hold up. I couldn’t in good faith recommend it compared to some of the amazing fantasy novels out there today. But back in the Eighties, when there was less variety on the shelves, this was excellent. Like all classics, it’s of its time and place. I really enjoyed revisiting Chronicles, and I’m looking forward to the Legends trilogy, which I remember being the high water mark for the Dragonlance saga.

But before I start Legends, there was another series of books that came between them: the Super Endless Quest pick-a-path gamebooks were the very first spinoff Dragonlance books, so I’ll be looking at them next fortnight.

Dev blog #34 – Never rains but it pours

So just after saying that there was nothing on the White Rabbit front, I got given the Japanese translation! But that was actually super easy to work on because I had basically done all the groundwork already with the Chinese translation. It was the matter of taking one night out of my busy schedule, sitting with James while he watched Hamilton and I half listened while I imported all the translations. I will need to run some QA still but first, the more pressing issue…

The Chinese translations for Nine Lives have arrived! But we still haven’t finished the voice work yet! AHHHH!!!! So Lauren and I are scrambling to get things done ASAP. I’m cutting up the clips from the master voice track recorded by Laura who plays Nim. Straight after that I have a collection of small fixes to code – hopefully they are small! – and then I will be able to split the game into two different builds, one for English, one for Chinese, and finally import the Chinese translations. I can at least do that before importing the voices fully if they aren’t done by then. And that’s not even stopping to consider the changes that are going to be needed in the art… But at least there is no major rush at the moment, there is no release date planned as yet because they are still coming up with what the Chinese title will be!

And just in terms of personal life, this is coming at a crazy time for me. I’m changing jobs, I’m in the first theatre show I’ve been in since having my child. Things are just so, so busy hence the title of this post. I really only have myself to blame! I am just so very glad that James and I pre-recorded and banked the two podcast episodes that are coming out this month on the 8th and the 22nd. Thank goodness we were so wise! They are very fun episodes, so I can’t wait to hear what you think of them, and I hope you’ll forgive the illusion of them being current at the time of release.

Between all the extra load of childcare James now has to do because of my absences for rehearsals, he has been getting a little bit more work done on Dragons of Tirenia, but mostly he has been enjoying the little nostalgia journey of re-reading the start of the truly intimidatingly large Dragonlance canon. I’ve been enjoying contributing to and editing his reviews. Check out the review of the end of the first trilogy this Sunday!

One little nice thing that has been happening in the past week… for some reason my games have been getting a little more attention lately. I have no idea why! Because Nine Lives was in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality, so thousands of people own it, I get a couple of views and downloads trickling in every day on Itch.io. But last week there was one day where suddenly Nine Lives got 60 views, and almost a total of 80 views on all my games! Since then I have been getting new followers almost every day. I’m not quite sure what has happened, but hopefully it keeps happening. Wish I knew how to encourage it!

Dev blog #33 – Lots of movement, plus Dragonlance news!

Since we seem to have become the Dragonlance news blog, let’s cover that first, shall we? Something new and interesting has been revealed that complicates our theories further. Remember how last time we thought perhaps they might be going back in the timeline? Well our suspicions are even stronger now that we see the title of the new series is Classic Dragonlance. There are also rumours of a new female protagonist! What could it all mean? Well, we’re excited to find out eventually.

Source: the public Facebook account of Tracy Hickman

In Sky Bear Games news, this week James got back on the writing horse and has reached the whopping total of 87,000 words out of his (completely arbitrary) 100K goal for the first major release of Dragons of Tirenia.

As for me, nothing new on the White Rabbit front, but Grand Vision have been back in touch with me and the Nine Lives translation will be ready to work with on Tuesday!! So I am hauling butt now to get the extra work I wanted to put in Nine Lives done, particularly any extra strings that will need translation. The quality improvements I am working on will improve the gameplay for the English language players too. I intend to make the tutorial a lot smoother and a bit quicker, improve the functionality of the menus, add in extra events that reward you for working on certain stats, and to make the hidden stats of Public Opinion and Connection to Faerie a little less obscured.

We had a great time recording our last podcast with the Bundle Buddies, so please check that out, or better yet check their podcast out. They are laugh out loud funny! More episodes of both podcasts coming out soon.

Right, back to work!!

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 #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!