D&D Alumni Archive | 2/21/2014
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Dragonlance
30th Anniversary
Shannon Appelcline

T hirty years ago this March, the world of Krynn debuted in the Dragonlance series of adventures and novels. There have been quite a few twists and turns in the years since, but Dragonlance remains one of D&D’s most innovative settings.


The War of the Lance: 1984-1987

Dragonlance began life as the vision of game designer Tracy Hickman. Before he joined TSR, he ran a small press called DayStar West Media where he imagined adventures that contained “an intriguing story” and dungeons with an “architectural sense.” He and wife Laura published two of these adventures and were working on a third called Eye of the Dragon—which imagined dragons taking a more important role in an adventure. They were still talking about this idea when Tracy joined TSR.

The other shoe dropped when the powers-that-be at TSR asked for proposals for a trilogy of adventures featuring dragons. To make his proposal really shine, Tracy Hickman formed the “Project Overlord” team: manager Harold Johnson coordinated the project, designer Jeff Grubb suggested gods (and tinker gnomes), and artist Larry Elmore painted a series of four full-color sample pictures. However, Hickman didn’t just propose a trilogy, but instead a 12-book series—one per type of dragon. It would also include TSR’s first-ever novels, building on the infrastructure created by Rose Estes for the Endless Quest gamebooks (1982-1987).

Management was won over by the impressive presentation, and Dragonlance was born!

The adventure began with DL1 Dragons of Despair (1984) and continued through DL14 Dragons of Triumph (1986). These modules were hugely innovative for the fact that they told an epic story of armies transforming the world of Krynn during the War of the Lance. They also had great maps. The world of Krynn was another innovation: a new world to supplement D&D’s existing settings of Greyhawk and the Known World. Not only was it the heart of an epic story but also it was the first TSR world that moved away from D&D norms—with its tinker gnomes, many races of elves and dwarves, and mysterious draconian race.

As planned, three novels accompanied the Dragonlance adventures, all written by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis; the first being Dragons of Autumn Twilight (1984). The novels proved even more successful than the adventures and started a long sequence of Dragonlance fiction publications, totaling more than 100 novels and anthologies to date.

In those early days, those twelve adventures largely defined the world of Dragonlance—supplemented by DL5 Dragons of Mystery (1984), a mini-sourcebook, and DL11 Dragons of Glory (1985), a wargame. Meanwhile, Weis and Hickman also wrote a second trilogy of novels, which took brothers Caramon and Raistlin Majere back into the history of Krynn; it was called Dragonlance Legends (1986), and became another hit.

Hickman and Weis’ success as novelists would soon remove them from the Dragonlance fold, just as the setting’s original story was ending. Before they left, they offered one final gift to the setting’s fans: Dragonlance Adventures (1987). It was the first full-sized sourcebook for the setting, and gave DMs the opportunity to tell their own stories in the setting.


Transition: 1988-1994

Dragonlance had reached a period of transition, now that the setting’s definitive story had been told. There were more stories to be told in Krynn, but TSR struggled to match the setting’s previous success.

DL15 Mists of Krynn (1988) and DL16 The World of Krynn (1988) were both anthologies of short adventures that had little to do with the epic War of the Lance. They mainly treaded water before the release of AD&D 2e (1989). Following the advent of 2e, TSR grew fond of adventure trilogies, and this became the main way that Krynn was explored in the following years—through trilogies of adventures in the “DLE” (1989), “DLA” (1990), and “DLS” (1991) series. A few one-off adventures also appeared, as did a 2e revision of the War of the Lance adventures (1990-1994), which introduced a new generation of players to Krynn’s epic story.

Dragonlance novels continued through the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but they tended to focus on the War of the Lance. The Tales anthologies (1987-1992), the Meetings Sextet (1991-1993), the Preludes novels (1989-1990), and the Villains novels (1993-1994) shed new light on old ground, but suggested that Krynn needed something entirely different to revive the setting.

Possibly the biggest innovation of the time appeared in David “Zeb” Cook’s Time of the Dragon (1989) supplement. It detailed the continent of Taladas on the other side of Krynn—a setting far enough removed that readers (and designer Cook!) didn’t need to know about the intricacies of Krynn’s history and mythology. It also contained some unique societies, such as Roman-like minotaurs.

Taladas was well-supported; the “DLA” trilogy was set there as were several reference books: DLS1 New Beginnings (1991) was a players’ book for the region, DLR1 Otherlands (1990) described some of the lands near Taladas, and DLR2 Taladas: The Minotaurs (1991) provided details on the continent’s best-loved society.

Despite these scattered reference books, the vast majority of support for Krynn prior to 1992 was in the form of adventures. This was surprising, as TSR was by now publishing the extensive “FR” (1987-1993) and “GAZ” (1987-1991) sourcebook lines—but nothing similar for Krynn. At first, it looked like this might be changing with a pair of boxed sourcebooks: Tales of the Lance (1992) and Dwarven Kingdoms of Krynn (1993).

However, before this new Dragonlance revival could get any further, the line was included as part of TSR's cancellations.


A New Age: 1994-1997

The War of the Lance introduced Krynn as a world of epic stories, and by the mid-‘90s, TSR decided that the world needed more of the same. Fiction led the way: Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis returned to write The Second Generation (1994), which told the stories of the sons and daughters of the Heroes of the Lance. It was planned to be followed by a trilogy where some of this second generation would participate in Krynn’s next epic, but due to TSR’s constraints at the time, the trilogy was whittled down to a single book: Weis and Hickman’s Dragons of Summer Flame (1995).

This new novel told of the epic battle against Chaos, but more importantly it created a new status quo for Krynn: the gods were banished from the world, and the disappearance of Krynn’s original moons resulted in the loss of classic magic. This was the state of the world when creative director Harold Johnson decided to use the world of Krynn to develop a non-D&D fantasy game—something that TSR’s management was interested in at the time.

The resulting RPG, Dragonlance: Fifth Age (1996), by William W. Connors, was named after the new era that settled upon Krynn following the end of the Chaos War. However, it extended beyond that crisis point into a new age where huge alien dragons had settled upon Krynn and reshaped the land. They now ruled it as evil overlords. It was an innovative way to give dragons a new and prominent role in the setting—one that was further explored by Jean Rabe’s Dragons of a New Age trilogy of novels (1996-1998).

Fifth Age’s SAGA system resulted in one of the most ground-breaking game systems ever produced by TSR—rivaling the innovation of Tracy Hickman’s epic story a decade before. It focused on telling stories and also used a resource-management system that allowed players to determine their level of success based on what cards they played. Over the next few years, TSR supported SAGA with a series of boxed supplements that expanded the rules and also included an ongoing adventure, “Dragons of a New Age.”

However, TSR’s near bankruptcy and purchase by Wizards of the Coast in 1997 would soon transform the young line.


A Wizardly Return: 1998-2003

After the publication of Dragons of Summer Flame, Weis and Hickman left Krynn behind again, resulting in the Fifth Age being the work of Harold Johnson, Jean Rabe, William Connors, Sue Cook, and others. However, after Wizards of the Coast acquired TSR in 1997, Peter Adkison worked hard to get TSR’s best-known creators involved with the company again. As a result, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman joined the Fifth Age team in a series of meetings during the winter of 1997 and 1998 that came to be called the Dragonlance summit. Here they outlined a new epic event for Dragonlance: The War of Souls.

Wizards continued with its publication of SAGA books through 2000, but their tenor changed. They no longer focused on the Fifth Age. Instead Seeds of Chaos (1998) and Chaos Spawn (1999) both turned the clock back to the Chaos Wars—and even included rules for running the adventures using AD&D.

As the SAGA line ended, the War of Souls began with the publication of Dragons of the Fallen Sun (2000)—the first of three new novels by Weis and Hickman. This time around, the authors’ story had more time to breathe, and they were able to better repeat the success of their original trilogies. This success may also have been helped by the epic nature of the story: the foundling Mina preys upon the souls of the dead to lead an army across Krynn in the name of the One God; in the end, Krynn is once more transformed: the gods return, the elves are dispossessed, and the dragon gods Paladine and Takhisis alike are changed forever.

The publication of the War of Souls also marked an explosion of Dragonlance fiction, written by Paul B. Thompson, Tonya C. Cook, Richard A. Knaak, Douglas Niles, and others. Most were set after the War of Souls and continued to push Krynn’s timeline forward. Wizards also returned to gaming in the world of Krynn with the Dragonlance Campaign Setting (2003), by Margaret Weis and Don Perrin. This handsome hardcover volume was a massive new tome full of Krynn lore. For the world of Krynn, it was the return of an old friend.


The Weis Years: 2003-2009

Wizards continued to publish Dragonlance novels throughout the ‘00s, but they opted not to release additional gaming books. Instead, they licensed those rights out to Weis’s own company, Margaret Weis Productions (originally: Sovereign Press). The result was the most prolific period of Dragonlance publication since the early ‘90s.

This began with a series of three sourcebooks, each of which extensively detailed one of Krynn’s major eras of adventure: the historic period of Legends of the Twins (2006), the classic period of War of the Lance (2004) and the Fifth Age period, also called the Age of Mortals (2003). New and old designers alike worked on these books, including Margaret Weis, Tracy Hickman, and Jamie Chambers.

Margaret Weis Productions published several other supplements during their time steering the Dragonlance ship, but the most important were arguably two epic adventures. The Age of Mortals Campaign (2004-2006) told the story of the final dragon overlords following the War of Souls, while the War of the Lance Chronicles (2006-2008) revisited Krynn’s first epic using the d20 system rules mechanics.

During this period, Weis and Hickman also wrote new Dragonlance novels for Wizards. The most notable was their Lost Chronicles Trilogy (2006-2009), which told new stories of the War of the Lance.

Meanwhile, a licensed animated movie called Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight appeared in 2008—around the same time that Margaret Weis Productions published their last Dragonlance products. Weis and Hickman finished off the Lost Chronicles Trilogy the next year with Dragons of the Hourglass Mage (2009) … and once more it was the end of an era.


The Digital Future: 2010-Present

Technically, Wizards’ last original Dragonlance publication was The Fate of Thorbardin (2010), by Douglas Niles—the conclusion of his Dwarf Home Trilogy (2007-2010). However, fans can once more enjoy the return of classic Dragonlance material being added to DnDClassics.com. DL1-4 (Dragons of Despair, Flame, Hope, and Desperation, respectively) have appeared in January, with plans for more to follow in the coming months.

And with that brief look back at the setting, we bid a happy anniversary to Dragonlance!

About the Author

Shannon Appelcline has been roleplaying since his dad taught him Basic D&D in the early '80s. He's the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons—a four-volume history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Shannon thanks the folks at RPGnet for suggesting some of Dragon’s best articles and giving other insights into the magazine's history.

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