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!

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!

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 #27 – Half a year gone!

Hey, it’s been half a year since I started doing this whole weekly blog thing. Has it been helping? Well, not yet, seems to be my feeling. There’s a little bit of awareness of who we are and what we do, we get a little bit of love from followers/supporters every week, and I appreciate that. Thank you! Like I say to James, I believe that if we just keep being ourselves and posting our blogs, podcasts, and livestreams, our audience will find us one day. If we can have a proven track record behind us of regular content, then new audience members coming in will see that they can have a certain level of trust that we won’t just vanish next week. It might seem pointless at times, but in time I think we’ll thank ourselves.

Well, there are important things coming up which are going to expand our audience. Obviously, Wonderland Nights: White Rabbit’s Diary coming out in less than two weeks in China is going to be potentially quite big. I’ve never done anything remotely like that before, so we’ll see how it goes! I have high hopes, but perhaps I need to tone those hopes down a little so they don’t get dashed. But the latest update with White Rabbit is that I have finished my testing 100%, so now it’s up to the Grand Vision team to finish their testing, and then we are good to go!

The translator I am working with there has gone straight into The Nine Lives of Nim, and I need to go straight into that too now that White Rabbit is well underway. I need to do a bit of sound editing, pop the finished sound files into the game, and I need to make a few fixes and improvements. I need to hurry up and do that so I can give my translator any new strings I come up with!

Meanwhile, James continues with Dragons of Tirenia (17,000 words until he hits 100k!) and I am continuing with adding slowly to the new Jentle Hi-ness storylines. We’ve got a new podcast episode out: https://www.spreaker.com/episode/42497198 , in which we dissect James’s childhood nostalgia for Dragonlance. It’s a good time!

What else is going on… we’re almost wrapped on the Discord, and have an announcement about what is happening next there coming up once that is done. We are wrapping Apprentices of Tirenia tomorrow in a daytime livestream! The final Bitsy jam I will take part in will be very soon, if not this weekend then the next presumably. And I think that about does it for this week. Thanks for reading!

Claire vs Dragonlance Part 6: The railroad continues, this time with actual road!

Day Nine

The heroes woke to find themselves in a wagon cage. Goldmoon counselled the group to rest up and get their strength back for when a chance to escape came. She spotted another wagon where their gear was being stowed. She healed Caramon, who had been badly beaten to subdue him, Raistlin who was coughing without his usual herbal tea, and the smith Theros, whose arm had been cut off when he had been arrested by Fewmaster Toede.

Toede and his squire, a gully dwarf, traveled alongside them and their hobgoblin captors, as they went for miles and miles through ruined terrain, the true extent of the draconian conquest hitting them as they passed through what was once the proud city of Gateway.

Their chance came when they drew near to the forests of the Qualinesti elves. When a sudden ambush of elves descended upon the wagons, Goldmoon rallied the others. Raistlin, Tika and Tasslehoff threw off their bonds and started to free the others. The goblins decided to turn on the prisoners and kill them before the elves could rescue them, so the party had to struggle to rip the locks or the bars off of their cage before they were pincushioned. They managed, but not without casualty; Gilthanas lost half his elven blade to a lock. The goblins were quickly dispatched and the heroes rushed to retrieve their gear from the other wagon while hobgoblins rushed them. They slew as many as they could before breaking for the cover of the trees.

Woodelveskarlkopinski

Source: Warhammer

Claire vs Dragonlance Part 5: Chapter 2 begins – You can’t break that railroad!

Day Eight

After running across mountains and plains to get to the distant smoke over Solace, the party ran into the ruins of Que-Qiri. The only person they saw was an old man who was trapped under the ruins of his house. Goldmoon tried to heal him, but she could not save him. As he died, he monologued at the heroes: the dragons have returned! As he died, the dragon-like men they had first met at Xak Tsaroth attacked from out of nowhere! But as they slew these, they discovered they were a different breed: these ones burst into a pool of acid as they died, burning the party.

This is the first point where James wanted me to try and break the railroad. Apparently if I had decided to go off script at this point, I would have been attacked by TWO DRAGONS… cos you gotta stay on the railroad, y’all.

The heroes continued to head towards Solace as evening drew near. They came upon a devastating sight. Only three buildings were left, including the Inn of the Last Home, which had been ripped from its high-up post in the tree and lay, its back wall and roof slumped over. They tried to sneak in but failed and ran into a patrol. With Raistlin’s quick casting of a Hypnotic Pattern, the party ran quickly into the Inn of the Last Home.

Tika the bartender pretended to not know the party and when she had the chance filled the party in on what had transpired. The dragons and dragon-men had arrived and were enslaving the people and killing all the elves they saw. At that moment a hooded figure crossed the room and a dragon-man tripped him. As his hood came back, elf ears were revealed! The draconians started to shove him around, while the party tried to decide what to do. But at that point Tika whacked one over the head with her skillet. A hideous hobgoblin, called Fewmaster Toede, stepped in and announced that everyone in here would be arrested.

And this was the point where I decided to try and break the railroad. My eight person party – plus two, Tika and the elf, Gilthanas – versus Fewmaster Toede and 48 draconians…

Come at me bro!

The party fought to resist arrest. Weary from the road, they were not at the top of their form, but put up a valiant effort. Fewmaster Toede fled in fear, almost near death. The party were slow to fall, but they took out 44 of the 48 draconians before Tasslehoff finally fell, the last to be attacked. The floor was mostly eaten away by rivulets of acidic draconian blood.

We will rejoin the heroes again next time as they now rejoin the railroad and try to escape from capture!

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Source: TSR

Claire vs Dragonlance Part 4: Dragon of Despair

At the foot of the cauldron elevators the party looked around. The corridors – or were they in fact long ruined streets? – of the dungeon were dark and damp. Exploring around, they found more ruined rooms than whole. Coming upon a central plaza, they spied a black dragon and a draconian (the name they would soon learn to call the lizardmen they had been seeing) bossing around some gully dwarves and telling them to find a certain female prisoner.

Setting out to hopefully find the prisoner first, the heroes went north of the plaza and found the building that once was the Halls of Justice. In this they found several draconians. One group they had to fight, but in another room they found a drunk one who muttered about his captain being captured by gully dwarves! Behind the hall of justice they found two draconians with a kender prisoner, who the heroes freed.

Further north there was a broken tower, and doors in this teleported the protagonists up many levels to the treasury. In there they were attacked by ghosts who did not realise they were dead. Goldmoon tried to talk with one ghost to send him on his way peacefully, but she failed, and he had to be sent away violently.

Further west the heroes found the gully dwarf warrens. These were greatly defensible, but the foolish creatures hadn’t realised. They found the draconian captain who was taken prisoner, and a frustrating conversation ensued between Goldmoon and the very stupid guards. After questioning the captain about the dragon deeper in the dungeon, they moved on and found the ‘king’ or Highbulp of the gully dwarves. They gave him a gift of a monocle missing the glass (first thing found in Tasslehoff’s pockets) and he told them of a secret way to the dragon’s den.

The secret way was behind a waterfall and down through a sewer. Once they got through though, there was a magical darkness which they could not dispel. The dragon dispelled it just to mock them, and they came out to face the fearsome wyrm. While she monologued at them, Goldmoon heard Mischakal’s voice in her head telling her to have faith and strike the dragon with the staff. Goldmoon murmured to the others to find the Discs of Mischakal and she ran forward and thrust her staff at the dragon.

Goldmoon and the staff burst in blue, flaming light and the dragon screamed in pain. The whole dungeon began to crumble. While Sturm found the disks, Raistlin found something else which he hid from the others, and everyone had to pull a shocked Riverwind out of the room as the dungeon filled with water. They got to the vines next to one of the waterfalls and began to climb up, finding themselves outside the treasury again.

They began to look around for materials for a raft but then an ancient ghost showed them the way out back to the level where the cauldrons would come out. They ran up and out, and then, at the foot of the statue of Mischakal, they found the staff back in the goddess’s hands, and Goldmoon unharmed at her feet.

As they fled the sinking city, Goldmoon could feel new power inside her. She was a cleric of Mischakal now. Her joy was short-lived though, as that evening when they crested the mountains, they saw plumes of smoke coming from the direction of far-off Solace.

Clyde Caldwell - Dragons Of Despair (1)

Source: http://www.oocities.org/timessquare/realm/1883/art.html

Claire vs Dragonlance, Part 3: Pot Luck

Day Five

The party discovered that they must have been protected overnight by the statue of Mischakal, for there were lizard men in the very next room. After dealing with them, they went down the stairs in another room and found themselves in a room with many holes in the floor. They walked carefully, watching their step. They saw a wooden box on a ledge far across a chasm, and using rope, bow and arrow, and the spell Tenser’s Floating Disk, they managed to pull the box over to them and were well rewarded for it. Inside were 5 gems worth 1000 gold each.

Heading to the other side of the same floor they ran into a strange sight: gully dwarves running and jumping with strange glee into a cauldron, attended by two lizard men. The cauldron then began to sink through a hole in the floor. They worked out what it was as another cauldron came rising out of another hole in the floor: it was an elevator! New lizard men came out of this cauldron and started to file towards the corridor that the heroes hid in, so they rushed out and took them all on. These ones turned to stone on their deaths and after a few minutes or so they turned to dust.

gullydwarves

Source: TSR

Once the lizard men were dispatched the heroes decided to figure out the elevator. They would have to do it in two groups, so the first group, Tanis, Riverwind, Goldmoon and Sturm, all started downwards. They noticed a lizard man standing beside a gong at the bottom to announce their arrival, so Tanis leaned over the side and shot at him, killing him in one shot. Having him turn into stone stopped him from hitting the gong. However, once they were out of the cauldron at the bottom, and the group above were piled in, a patrol of lizard men arrived in the room. The assembled four on the lower floor were able to wipe these out before the other four were even halfway toward the floor.

Unfortunately at this point I had to end the session because I started to feel ill. We’ll pick up again in a few days!