Reviews of 'Dragonlance Classics 15th Anniversary Edition'
Reviews of 'Dragonlance Classics 15th Anniversary Edition'
Here are the visitor reviews we have of Dragonlance Classics 15th Anniversary Edition. For more information about this title, please visit the item detail page.
Twenty-five years ago, when Dave Arneson, Gary Gygax, and friends were launching the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game, my parents were dating steadily and a few months away from getting engaged.
Fifteen years ago, when DL1 Dragons of Despair was released to begin the
DRAGONLANCE Saga, I was just finishing up preschool and heavily into Star Wars and Masters of the Universe.
Ten years ago, as DRAGONLANCE was in the midst of succeeding admirably as a novel line and trying to save the game line with Taladas, a couple of new friends of mine mentioned these novels they'd been reading and that they thought I'd like, with specific reference to the character of Raistlin. After some cajoling, I convinced one of them to lend me Dragons of Winter Night, which I swiftly devoured, and followed up with Dragons of Spring Dawning. Those two books, some of the first fantasy novels I'd ever read, set me off on a near-fanatical interest in DRAGONLANCE.
I got Dragons of Autumn Twilight for Christmas, Test of the Twins and
War of the Twins for my birthday that next January, and more DL books and comics as the months passed. In the summer of 1991, though, I'd grown disappointed with more and more of the books I read, as they seemed to lack what attracted me to the saga in the first place. After picking up Kindred Spirits, I drifted out of DRAGONLANCE fandom.
Three years ago, as I left Rochester Community College for Coe College, both
DRAGONLANCE and my interest in it were about to hit a revival. I'd only bought four DL products between 1991 and 1996--Leaves from the Inn of the Last Home, The Second Generation, The History of Dragonlance, and
Dragons of Summer Flame--but this new 'Fifth Age', with a new take on the setting and revolutionary new system, sounded interesting. Thus, I kept a close eye out for the boxed set and novel, picking them up about two days after I arrived at my new school. The Fifth Age box fired my imagination; although I haven't gotten around to running a DL campaign yet, I quickly became one of the staunchest supporters of the Fifth Age and the SAGA System, and once again a hardcore fan of DRAGONLANCE in general.
Now, as DRAGONLANCE prepares for what looks to be another major change in the forthcoming War of Souls, and I graduate from college and prepare to enter the work force (as well as pondering how much longer I want to keep up with official DL material and remain an active fan), we receive Dragonlance Classics 15th Anniversary Edition (hereafter DLC15A), which is intended to return to the 'old days' and retell the story that started it all and that hooked so many of us, while adding room for each group to expand that story and make it their own.
How well does it do?
I'm not going to do my typical chapter-by-chapter breakdown; there's just too much here to do it that way. I'll do a general look at the sections of the book, though.
We begin with the well-known and loved Authors' Foreword, in which the two authors do a general retrospective of where DRAGONLANCE started from, how it's lasted fifteen years, and why they decided to take this approach for a celebration of that anniversary. They also take a moment to look forward to the thirtieth anniversary of the saga, which I thought was a nice way to bring it full circle. As we've come to expect, the Foreword gives us insight into the motives and desires of those who worked on the project, and in this case, we also get a nice look back at the Saga. I found it touching and inspiring, but I'm a sentimental sort.
We also get "Reflections from the River of Time", where a lot of the original design staff--from Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman to Mike Breault, Bruce Nesmith, and Dennis Kauth--share some of their recollections of designing that classic series. Some interesting details--such as the origins of Krynn's gods and of Rakath the mummy--are revealed therein, as well as some puns and jokes, such as "Froggylance" and "Dragonlunch".
Following that, the Table of Contents, and the "Canticle of the
Dragon" (a nice touch, that), we have an Introduction, which
provides information and advice on running the campaign. Some of
this stuff is familiar, while other information is new. It can
be divided into two sections: mechanical advice and game-mastering
advice. The former involves the random encounters, magic guidelines,
and advancement rules. I must say, I was impressed with the random
encounters in this product--instead of simple 'here's another
draconian to beat up' (although some encounters like that are
present, I believe), many of them add flavor or story elements to
the adventure. The guidelines for using SAGA for pre-Second
Cataclysm magic were sparse and somewhat disappointing, but useable
with a touch of work. Goldmoon might provide a bit of trouble,
since there are no spell lists provided for her. It shouldn't
prove too hard to work out, especially for fans with knowledge of
the Saga or AD&D, but perhaps some guidelines should be placed in
Legends of the Lance or online. The advancement rules feel a little
slow, but I'm sure they were checked in playtesting, and since there
doesn't appear to be as much combat in these modules as in the
originals, it's not as much a concern.
The second part of the Introduction deals with running the game.
Much of this is familiar from DL5 Dragons of Mystery, but new
elements and tones have been added. Both provide advice for using
the Chosen Ones or new heroes, but where DL5 strongly discouraged
the players creating new champions, DLC15A subtly encourages it,
suggesting it may reduce predictability and keep the campaign alive
longer. The famous advice on obscure death reappears, and we
receive a brief history of the Innfellows, and a valuable piece of
advice: "This is your DRAGONLANCE campaign. No matter what
TSR may have printed about the world of Krynn, the only truth that
matters in your campaign is the truth that is accepted by you, as
the Narrator, and by the players in your game." This is a point
Steve has been trying to hammer into our heads for years, and it's
nice to seem him get it into print.
Following that, we receive the write-ups of the Chosen Ones in both
AD&D and SAGA stats, as well as background and roleplaying
information, in a format that will be familiar to SAGA fans. Most
of the information is likewise familiar. The artwork is new, though,
and quite nice. Dennis Cramer did some good nice pictures of
our beloved heroes, although I'm not sure Caramon and Tasslehoff
look quite right. Tanis and Gilthanas are particularly impressive,
though, and Raistlin, Sturm, and Laurana are also highlights.
Then, we begin the adventure, a thirty-six chapter epic spanning
the length and breadth of Ansalon and which allows the heroes to
experience many of the encounters and areas that the original
modules and Chronicles made famous, from Xak Tsaroth and
Pax Tharkas, to the Tomb of Huma and the Silvanesti Nightmare,
to the epic climax at the Temple of Darkness in Neraka.
Some changes have been made, though. Areas from both the novels
and adventures have been removed, such as the Floating Tomb
of Derkin, undersea Istar, and the Glitterpalace. Likewise, some
characters are missing, most notably Eben Shatterstone and Berem
Everman. Other locations and characters have their roles expanded
and revamped; there's more time spent on Qualinesti, for example,
new characters show up, such as the eccentric red dragon Firestorm,
and Fizban, Kitiara, and Verminaard all get more to do here than
in the originals.
Regarding those three, I have to say, I like what was done with
them here. Fizban gets a somewhat larger role, and some really great
lines. Verminaard becomes a personal nemesis to the party, menacing
them in Pax Tharkas, Thorbardin, and the Silvanesti Nightmare (only
as a dreamshadow in that last, though). The real kicker begins in
Flotsam, where the heroes have a chance to contact "Sevil Rev"
for information and get caught up in his schemes. If they travel
with him to Neraka (and possibly even if they don't), he subtly
begins to cause trouble for them, and at the climax of the campaign
in the Temple of Darkness, he openly turns on the heroes, reveals
himself as Verminaard, and confronts them one last time. Recurring
nemeses and betrayals like that strike me as an excellent way to get
the players personally involved in the campaign, and some of the
staging (such as Verminaard's reappearance in Thorbardin, and his
presence in the climactic scene) feels very impressive.
Kitiara, meanwhile, plays a less predictable and more friendly role
than she ever has before. At several points during the campaign,
the Chosen Ones run the risk of being captured by the dragonarmies.
If so, they find themselves brought before the Blue Lady, who reveals
herself to be Kitiara--and offers them a chance to join the Blue
Dragonarmy and help bring order and peace to Ansalon. The module
actually allows the heroes to accept this, and gives rough guidelines
for how to handle it. They anger Kitiara if they refuse, but they
wind up even worse off than they accept. This, IMHO, is the best
use of Kitiara and her relationship to the Innfellows in the history
of the DRAGONLANCE Saga, as an old friend who's gone over to the 'dark
side' but who still holds respect for and loyalty to the heroes.
A return to this subplot plays out just as the heroes reach Neraka
and prepare to enter the Temple of Darkness. Kitiara offers to
help the party prevent the Dark Queen's return, as she's caught
between Ariakas' anger and Soth's unholy lusts. This sets things up to
proceed in a fashion similar to the end of Dragons of Spring
Dawning . . . but this time, Kitiara intends to not only use the
Chosen Ones to eliminate Ariakas, but then turn on them and let
the Dragonqueen enter Krynn. This adds another layer to the climax,
which I'll discuss more below.
There's also an appendix which includes statistics and brief
background write-ups for the more important NPCs, stats for a lot of
magical items, and notes on the dragons of the campaign. Guidelines
for running dragons are provided, as well as an optional rule that
feels so right I can't believe I didn't think of it before. The
designers recommend that you only allow dragons to be killed by
other dragons or by dragonlances. This doesn't mean the heroes can't
hurt dragons, or even beat them--most of the dragons the heroes
encounter are designed to retreat once they take a certain amount
of damage. But it helps keep the image of dragons as near-invulnerable
engines of destruction, and consequently makes the dragonlance that
much more important. Combined monster charts are included on the
inside covers; though lacking in detail in some cases, they provide
a handy quick reference for monster stats.
A small map of Ansalon's included as a pullout; it's not terribly
detailed, but it's nice-looking and gives the Narrator a feel for
the course of the action. I like the smaller size, actually; it's
not nearly as cumbersome as most TSR maps. The reverse provides a
map of Pax Tharkas, which is clear, well laid-out, and nicely done.
Now, on to more general stuff.
There are a couple of areas that I felt were problematic, most of them coming between the escape from Pax Tharkas and the entrance to Thorbardin. The system for determining the party's political influence feels too clunky and complicated; although it's
probably lifted from DL3, I think it's the kind of thing that
should have been revised. In addition, Skullcap and the encounter
with Whisper feel underdeveloped. These are the only real major
complaints I have after two read-throughs and a few scans of the
module. There are some glitches and errata, but nothing that looks
like it would terribly impede game play. Despite the handy
'Continuing the Saga' bits and the numerous guidelines for handling
and substituting characters and events, it can be a little hard to
follow everything sometimes, but that's nearly inevitable in a
product this size.
High Points and Notes:
I've already hit some of the high points
above, and I'm saving one more for the end of this review.
Here are some others:
- The quotes from Chronicles and other novels were
well-selected, for the most part, but the new quotes,
'history' selections, and journal entries are just as
interesting, if not more so, giving insights into the
characters, locations, and events of the War of the Lance.
- The adventure hooks and possible variations in
this module stagger the imagination. While it's true
that the heroes start in Solace and usually end in Neraka, they
can travel to vast numbers of locations in the meantime.
It's possible for the Chosen Ones to visit every location
described in the adventure, to go straight from Qualinesti
to Southern Ergoth, or to skip Xak Tsaroth and find the
True Faith on the Plains of Dust, as just a few examples.
Not only that, but numerous smaller encounters and locations
provide possible side-quests and points to revisit. The one
that particularly sticks in my mind is the town of Hopeful on
the way to Tarsis, a small village that has been subverted by
draconians and become an xenophobic and complacent cult enclave.
I expect everyone will find a similar throwaway bit that captures
their imagination or sparks the interest of their players.
- The module accommodates both those who want to play Chronicles
to the letter and those who want to step away from that story.
The main flow of the campaign is similar to that trilogy, but
rather distinct from it, but most chapters include a 'Playing
the Novels' sidebar that tells the Narrator how to restructure
things to keep closer to the three novels. I noticed that the
sidebars don't always conform completely to Chronicles, but
that appears to be in the interest of playability. The one
glitch that comes to mind, in fact, is simply that Raistlin's
placed in a few places he 'shouldn't be', and that appears to
be to avoid taking a hero out of the campaign for the last
quarter and then bringing him back.
- Speaking of heroes and divergences from Chronicles, all
eleven heroes are available for play at the beginning of the
story. I like this, simply because it allows things to start
flowing quickly and easily; you don't have to force players to
wait a few sessions to bring in the character they want to play,
or saddle them with one of the original eight when they really
want to play Gilthanas, Laurana, or Tika.
- I had the chance to acquire a copy of Dragonlance Classics
Volume III shortly after I picked up DLC15A, and I've done
some comparing of the Silvanesti section in this product with
the reprint of DL10 Dragons of Dreams in the DLC3. The
Nightmare can still be a challenge to run in this new version,
but not nearly so much as it looks to be in the older one.
The more confusing rules from the original are removed, the
encounters have more 'punch' to them and more integration
with the general story, and most of all, if I'm reading DLC15A
right, the Narrator only has to run one group through the
Nightmare, as opposed to five.
- As we'd heard about earlier, characters introduced later
in the Saga are retrofitted into the War of the Lance here.
Dalamar makes a cameo if the heroes escape from Southern
Ergoth; Ladine Dralathalas shows up and can play a significant
role, even filling in for Alhana at some spots; Morgan di Kyre
is leading Khurrish rebels; the PCs from the DLE series make a
cameo appearance on the Plains of Dust; and Ariakan can
be encountered in Neraka. The campaign even notes that in the
wake of the Temple's destruction, the heroes have a chance to
face Ariakan and, if they wish and are lucky, change the
course of Ansalonian history.
- Eben's removal doesn't seem to hurt the story. With Gilthanas
available as a hero from the beginning, there's no real need to
try and add confusion about who's the traitor. In addition, as
Steve pointed out to me, Eben's linked to Berem, who's also been
removed. That leads me to the last major part of this review . . .
The climax in the Temple of Darkness is my favorite
part of this product, so much so that I'm saving coverage of it
for the end of this review. There are two major elements to the
climax: the clash between the Chosen Ones and the Dragon Highlords,
and the confrontation with Takhisis, Queen of Darkness.
At the start, things flow pretty much as they do in Dragons of
Spring Dawning, as Tanis or another hero (it should be noted
that of all the pre-generated heroes, Tanis is probably the only
one who could pull this off) approaches and attacks Ariakas,
with the spellcasters in the party dispelling the Emperor's magical
defenses. At that point, though, things start to change. Verminaard
and Kitiara's lieutenant Ettel betray the heroes and Kit, Soth decides
to claim Kitiara, and everything erupts into utter chaos. The Chosen
Ones, Ettel and Verminaard, and all the Highlords (except Toede, who's
hiding behind his throne) fight one another, while the Dark
Lady's forces turn on the other dragonarmies in the background,
and Lord Soth approaches Kitiara through the fray. It's a very
impressive scene that feels like a climactic confrontation between
Light and Darkness, Good and Evil.
And then, the gate begins to open . . .
For those of you who don't have the original modules, DL13 Dragons
of Truth provided a choice of one of six ways to close the gate
and prevent Takhisis from entering Ansalon. Five of those ways
centered around NPCs. In addition to the one presented in the
novels, there was also the possibility that Berem's gemstone had
to be shattered on the Anvil of Might in the Temple to destroy the
possibility of the gate being opened fully. Other options included
Berem as Paladine or Fizban as Paladine being brought into the
Temple to close the gate, or Waylorn being revealed as Huma and using
a dragonlance to close the gate. Steve and Stan! went with the
six option presented in the original modules, though.
Through all the chaos, which is complicated when Kitiara claims the
Crown of Power and starts using its powers to force everyone to
kneel before "the Empress of Ansalon", a hero has to take a dragonlance
and enter the gate. Overcoming the magical and physical wards
around the gate, as well as fear of Takhisis, who is approaching the
portal rapidly in her Chromatic Dragon form, the hero pierces the
gate with the dragonlance, closing it and sacrificing his or her
own life for the sake of the world.
Evil turning upon itself. Good redeeming its own. The use of the
dragonlance as the key to the struggle. And the importance of a
single person's free choice to determine the fate of the world.
This climax epitomizes many of the themes of the DRAGONLANCE Saga
to me. Thank you and well done to Douglas Niles, Tracy Hickman,
Margaret Weis, Stan!, and Steve Miller, who created the ingredients
and brought them together here.
In any case, this review has gone on far too long, so I'd better
wrap it up. This is quickly becoming one of my favorite DRAGONLANCE
products ever, and has given me numerous new insights on the world,
the characters, and the era, as well as sparking my imagination
about them. Thank you very much to Stan!, Steve, Sue, Miranda and all
the others who worked on this to make it a celebration of
the entire Dragonlance saga to this point.
The views and opinions expressed in the reviews shown here are those of the reviewer(s) listed and do not necessarily reflect the ideas or opinions of the Dragonlance Nexus.
The Dragonlance Nexus does not publish any of the products listed in the Products section. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information presented is accurate, we cannot guarantee the accuracy of any listing. The Nexus is a member of the Associates program of Amazon.com and its international sites. Graphics are representational only.