In this month's exclusive interview, the designers of the new Dragonlance Campaign Setting discuss updating a world that one of them helped create in the first place.
Wizards of the Coast: Dragonlance is one of D&D's most beloved and developed settings, with over a hundred novels and numerous game products, comic books, and other materials. In revising the setting for the new rules, how did you decide where to begin and which resources to use?
Margaret Weis: We wanted to begin with the beginning, which was Tracy [Hickman]'s original vision for Dragonlance. That made me the "keeper of the flame" when questions arose. I also worked with the book department editors and the other Dragonlance authors to incorporate their visions into the original. Tracy always said that Krynn was real to those who entered it and that we all saw the same things, just from different perspectives.
Don Perrin: We had all worked with Dragonlance for so long that we were mostly familiar with what we needed before the project started. That was true in the macro sense, but in the micro sense, a lot of research had to be done. The phrase "God is in the details" was, for our point of view, a good reflection of what we had to do.
Christopher Coyle: For me, it began with re-reading every Dragonlance book I had ever read, and then diving in and reading everything that I hadn't. Within three months, I ended up reading more than 90 Dragonlance novels, which was a wealth of information to try to absorb. As the swiftest reader, and with pretty good recall, I focused particularly on those books that were hard to get a hold of. Luckily, I took copious notes! The novels were ranked based on their continuity, for example, working outward from the initial six novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (Chronicles and Legends) for the core of the project, as their vision truly forms the heart of Dragonlance's beginnings.
Jamie Chambers: While relying on Chris to help keep up with many different details, I tried to focus on the "big picture" of Krynn. The goal was to update Dragonlance to 3rd Edition, but we did not want to lose some of its special qualities that have kept the fans returning for nearly twenty years. I focused on the "core" qualities first demonstrated in the original six novels and Dragonlanceadventures (for AD&D 1st Edition). We all wanted to incorporate as many as possible of the novels and short stories -- some of which have never been reflected in game product -- into our line, but through the "lens" of our vision of Dragonlance, a vision we tried hard to match to that of Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. We assembled an impressive resource library, and our goal was to be inclusive. Careful readers will find many references throughout the text to stories both well-known and obscure.
Wizards: With so many different authors involved, there were bound to be minor continuity blips. How did you handle contradictory information?
Christopher: With so many talented writers involved in Dragonlance, each with his or her own vision of what Dragonlance was to them, there were some considerable contradictions that we needed to deal with. Since Margaret and Tracy's work formed the core, we used their novels as the basis from which to work. Jean Rabe's works, particularly the Dragons of a New Age trilogy, were the voice of the Fifth Age, while Richard Knaak'sLegend of Huma and Kaz the Minotaur and Chris Pierson's Kingpriest Trilogy were the heart of the early Ages. We also incorporated much of the Lost Histories, the Elven Nations, and Dwarven Nations trilogies, and quite a few other novels all tied in together. Basically, where there was conflict, we looked for the ideal that was closest to being "Dragonlance."
Jamie: Judgment calls were required on occasion when some sources contradicted others, and we chose those that best reflected the core ethos and stories as originally envisioned. As with everything else in the book, Margaret was our final word.
Margaret: Continuity issues with Krynn never really bothered me all that much, although I know they drive the fans crazy! If you study history, you find that every event in the history of man is viewed differently by every person who was involved with it. These people told their stories to other people, who told still more people, embellishing as they went along. To my mind, the contradictions in Krynn's history cause it to resemble our real world just that much more closely.
Wizards: Where were the biggest gaps that needed to be filled? In other words, what new material did you generate for the updated campaign book?
Christopher:Dragonlance has always had a pretty thorough timeline, which was a dream to work with. And with the wealth of novels, comics, and stories out there, we had plenty of material to draw upon. However, as the focus of the Dragonlance Campaign Setting (DLCS) is to take the world forward, and the War of Souls trilogy ends six months before the "starting" time of the DLCS, we had to brainstorm and figure out where the world was heading. What was going on with the Orders of High Sorcery now that the moons of magic were back? What were the gods doing to regain their lost followers? What has been happening with the minotaurs in Silvanesti and the outcast elves? We talked with various authors whose work will be taking the world forward (such as Richard Knaak with his Minotaur Wars trilogy, Jeff Crook and Dark Thane, Mary Herbert with the Linsha trilogy, and of course Margaret and her Dark Disciple trilogy), and we laid the groundwork for the world to come. Some hints and clues hiding in the DLCS may remain hidden for a while, but once those novels are released, a lot will be made clearer. There is a slew of stuff in there, story seeds galore, that enterprising DMs will be able to spin into entire campaigns!
Jamie: In addition to writing huge sections of the book and being our content editor, Margaret served several other vital roles. She served as a liaison with the Wizards of the Coast book department to let us know what stories were currently in development. In addition, she also let us know what sorts of major events were in store for Ansalon and the tone the setting should have post-War of Souls.
Even with all of the material already written for Dragonlance, there was still plenty of room for new ideas! For example, we knew we wanted to present the death knight as an important Dragonlance creature but we wanted to save Lord Soth for our War of the Lance sourcebook. The result was Lord Ausric, a new death knight who has an extremely cool story tied to the Chaos War and the ongoing legacy of the dark knights. Margaret and I had a lot of fun coming up with his story.
Margaret: Planning the future of Krynn was immense fun. In doing this, our goal was to provide adventurers and DMs with a future that is unknown, unexplored; a future in which heroes are needed, not a future where the heroes have solved all the problems! The War of Souls and the return of the gods have left Krynn in turmoil. While books are being written about this future, they will come out after the game material, so that players have the opportunity to create their own epic stories and to forge Krynn's future in their own imaginations.
Wizards: What challenges did you encounter in bringing the Dragonlance setting up to 3rd Edition (v.3.5) standards? Did things like prestige classes make it easier or more difficult to better develop the world of Krynn?
Christopher: Third Edition truly seems custom-made for Dragonlance, particularly since we were marrying the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons rules for Dragonlance with the Saga system rules. Originally, the world of Krynn was crafted to fit the rules established by the AD&D system, which had limitations, for example, on who could become wizards, on what weapons a wizard could wield, and how wizards learned and cast their spells. This became part of the inherent flavor of Dragonlance. As Dragonlance evolved into the Saga system, sorcerers and mystics were introduced, which fit nothing in AD&D rules set. But 3rd Edition D&D does have sorcerers -- heck, even the symbols used in published Wizards of the Coast 3rd Edition D&D adventures (the dragon head for encounters, the arrow for traps, the shield for cities and walls) were originally introduced and used in the DragonlanceSaga game! The customizable nature of 3rd Edition truly made it easy to bring Dragonlance back to D&D.
Jamie: Third Edition D&D took some of the best aspects of the old rules, providing a strong foundation but leaving lots of flexibility. Prestige classes were perfect for organizations such as the Wizards of High Sorcery and knights both good and evil. In fact, Dragonlance is sort of a first in 3rd Edition because some of these organizations are either mandatory (i.e., Wizards of High Sorcery) or concepts that a player designs a character specifically for (in the case of the knighthoods).
Margaret: Since, happily, I know nothing about rules, I left this up to Chris and Jamie and our friends on the Whitestone Council, who were an immense help to us, as well as the game designers at Wizards of the Coast.
Wizards: Given all the myriad options this book offers players, each of you must find yourself favoring one class over another, one race over another, one geographical region over another. What are your favorites? If you were to join a campaign now, what would you play?
Christopher: The Wizards of High Sorcery have always been one of my favorite Dragonlance concepts. In our current playtest adventure right now (run by Jamie Chambers), I'm playing a young Solamnic who grew up on the legends of the knight Huma and his wizard companion, Magius. Fascinated by Magius, Aeryk (my character) believed that "true' magic would always return some day, but without the gods, he held this hope deep in his heart. His family sent him to squire, as all promising young Solamnic nobles do, but when Aeryk awoke to see the familiar moons of the gods of magic hanging once more in the sky, his dreams were realized. He ran away from home, seeking a master so that he could become a true Wizard of High Sorcery like his hero, Magius. The campaign is incredibly fun; I'm really enjoying playing a young Aeryk and I'm both dreading and eagerly anticipating my Test of High Sorcery in the not-too-distant future so that he can enter the Orders of High Sorcery.
Jamie: Since reading the completion of the War of Souls, I've really spent a lot of time thinking about the elves of Ansalon, who are currently dealing with catastrophic changes both individually and as a people. The idea of such a long-lived people having to adjust to such terrible change -- sudden tragedy -- really stuck with me. It has affected both the stories I'd like to tell in writing and in the campaign I'm currently running. We have one elven character who is so ashamed of her heritage that she has shorn her ears and denies that she is an elf at all!
Margaret: I'm interested in the power struggle that will take place among the gods. Who will rise to take over the place once held by the Queen of Darkness? How will this immortal battle affect the mortals who will, of necessity, become involved? I will be dealing with part of this in the new Dark Disciple series as I continue the story of Mina.
Don: I'm a big fan of the draconians of Krynn. They are unique to the setting, and offer so much. They have a cool history, and they think like soldiers. I'd like to try a draconian noble sometime.
Wizards: What was the creative process like? Did one person serve as design lead, did you all work together on each part, did you divide the book into sections? How did you work as a design team?
Christopher: Each of us has our specialties and interests. Margaret took the lead, as she's one of the primary voices of Dragonlance, with Jamie as the lead designer. I got to work on the sections of the book that I had always wanted to, while they got to write and deal with the "official' stuff.
Jamie: Margaret placed the honor (and tremendous responsibility) of being the lead designer on me when the project first began. I wrote the initial outlines and assigned writing on both the Dragonlance Campaign Setting and our first follow-up product,Age of Mortals. We broke up the writing fairly evenly; I would usually do a rewrite or edit and then send sections to Margaret (who checked and edited everything). For those curious, I wrote the adventure "The Sylvan Key" and Chris wrote "The Ghost Blade," both of which are included.
Margaret: I was the editor on the project, going over what had been written by Chris and Jamie and the other contributors, as well as writing some material myself. We talked daily and exchanged copious emails to make certain that all of us knew what everyone was doing, since changes in one section could lead to changes in another.
Wizards: So much detail has gone into building Krynn over the years that it would never all fit in a single book. What did you have to leave out of this initial core book that you would like to have included?
Christopher: All sorts of things just could not be forced to fit into the core book! From the gnome invention rules that I slaved over (and which resemble a gnome invention in themselves!) to very specific prestige classes, like the kender handler and the gnome master tinkerer (which, while cool and needed, were just too narrow in focus for the book), we had to decide to limit ourselves to what would have the widest applicability to players and DMs. Luckily, none of the work we've done has been wasted, as we have an ambitious schedule where we can truly delve into these in greater detail.
Jamie: The DLCS has only so many pages, and as a core product for the Dragonlance game line had to be very broad in scope. I personally would have loved to go into even more detail about the places and characters of Ansalon after the War of Souls -- but that's just the sort of thing our follow-up products will provide.
Margaret: Deciding what to leave out was probably the most difficult part for us. We would come up with something really cool and then realize that we had only a paragraph to talk about it, when it deserved a chapter! In a way, this helped shape much of our future product line. It was comforting to know that something we could talk about for only a paragraph in the DLCS will be given several pages in the Towers of High Sorcery, for example. So, if you want more detail than what you find in the DLCS, just wait. It will be forthcoming!
Wizards: What additional books will support the Dragonlance setting?
Christopher: This year alone, there are quite a few great products in store. The one that I'm currently focused on is the adventure trilogy: Key of Destiny, Specter of Sorrows, and Price of Courage.
Jamie: Our lineup just for this year includes a Dungeon Master's Screen with a 32-page book of "plug-and-play" NPCs that might be typically met in a Dragonlance campaign, as well as an NPC progression chart for our mystic, mariner, and noble classes. Key of Destiny is the first of our Age of Mortals Campaign books, mega-adventures that will be linked to form a trilogy. The Bestiary of Krynn comes up next, updating unique Dragonlance monsters to the revised 3rd Edition game -- plus detailing some creatures that have been seen only in novels and short stories. (One example is the Feeder from the short story "Dagger Flight.") January of next year sees the Towers of High Sorcery product, which is both a sourcebook on magic and on the mysterious Orders of High Sorcery, past, present, and future!
Wizards: Finally, how will each of you be involved in future Dragonlance products? What else are you working on?
Christopher: I think that we've discovered that when we work together, we create a nearly harmonious creative synergy. Dragonlance is a labor of love, it always has been, and I know that I have loved working on the very setting that first introduced me to gaming. Currently, I'm designing the adventure trilogy, as well as providing some writing support to Jamie as he forges ahead. I'm also the art director for Sovereign Press, so it's my job to come up with most of the image concepts for the artwork and find the artists we want to work on them. I hope to continue working on Dragonlance for some time to come.
Jamie: I will continue to serve as the lead manager and designer for the Dragonlance game line, working closely with Margaret, Chris, and our freelance writers to create the best products we can. Dragonlance has become fresh and exciting to me once again, both in games and novels, and I'm going to have fun both moving forward and exploring Krynn's past. I will, however, still be involved with Sovereign Stone and we are planning to create new game product based on Margaret's new Dragonvarld series from Tor Books. I'll be constantly busy, but that's the way I like it!
Don: I will continue to work with Sovereign Press to provide layout and graphic design services, and serve as a contributing author on those projects that they wish me to work on. My current project is launching a new magazine, Military Gamer, for the historical miniature gaming market.
Margaret: I'm working on the Dark Disciple trilogy, which will continue the story of Mina. I'm also working with other Dragonlance authors and book editors to shape Krynn's future, coordinating their ideas with those of the game designers.
I want to say that it has been a pleasure for me to once again be involved in the game side of Dragonlance. The enthusiasm generated by the fans for this product has been truly gratifying. I want to thank all of those who were on that original design team, my own design team, and all those people -- authors, editors and designers -- who have given something of themselves to Dragonlance. I want to thank the fans, who have always been a major part of the Dragonlance world. (Yes, we do listen to you!) Finally, I want to thank Tracy Hickman, who first sat down in 1983 to create a new world, the world of Dragonlance. Tracy, this book's for you!