Dragonlance is "really D&D's setting for war," senior game designer Wes Schneider said during a recent press conference on its return to Dungeons & Dragons. "Dragonlance's story has been many things throughout the history of the setting but for 5th edition we're focusing on its most iconic conflict, the War of the Lance—this planet-spanning conflict between the forces of good and the incursions of the Dragon Queen Takhisis and her dragon armies."
From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, Dragonlance was a popular, core Dungeons & Dragons setting thanks to a bestselling series of novels that emphasized the epic, Tolkienesque side of D&D, as well as playing up the bickering and romance. Its protagonists, the Heroes of the Lance, were like a cross between the Fellowship of the Ring and the X-Men.
The first truly multimedia D&D setting, Dragonlance was adapted for several of the Gold Box CRPGs and a not-very-good animated movie starring Kiefer Sutherland and Lucy Lawless. Following the end of a legal disagreement between Wizards of the Coast and Dragonlance's creators, it's returning on December 6 in the form of a D&D adventure called Shadow of the Dragon Queen and a board game called Warriors of Krynn.
Shadow of the Dragon Queen has rules for playing kender, as well as new backgrounds to cover the Knights of Solamnia and Mages of High Sorcery. It'll let you be someone just like Tasslehoff or Sturm or Raistlin, but unlike the original adventures, which were designed with the protagonists they shared with the books in mind, the idea is that you play new characters who experience the War of the Lance from a fresh perspective. The adventure begins in a peaceful town in east Solamnia called Vogler, with a low-key introduction involving a fishing competition, but it's not long before war arrives and you're helping organize a defense.
This is where the board game comes in. You can transfer play over to Warriors of Krynn, run through a scenario representing the battle you're up to in the adventure, then hop back to the RPG. Wizards of the Coast has been careful to explain that's just an option, and you can play both the adventure and the board game on their own. Tying them together sure sounds tempting, though. It's the dream, right? Every roleplayer wants to try a campaign that scales up from small fights into full-on warfare at least once—to go from Weathertop to the Battle of Pelennor Fields. The problem is that combat rules designed for four-to-six heroes slow down when applied to entire armies. Normally you might switch to a wargame ruleset, like Warhammer or Chainmail, or even the official hexgrid wargame rules published for Dragonlance in a 1986 supplement called Dragons of Glory.
Warriors of Krynn isn't a wargame, however, but "a strategy game that really has D&D at its heart," as Schneider put it. While the tokens representing units line up to face each other, the heroes move dynamically across tiles representing not just the battlefield but nearby areas. They might spend their actions ducking back to the command tent to call for reinforcements, bolstering the morale of a shaken NPC, or swinging by a tomb to find a useful magic item.
The rules were designed by Rob Daviau, codesigner of Risk Legacy and creator of the entire concept of legacy games, and Stephen Baker, designer of HeroQuest, Battle Masters, and Risk: The Lord of the Rings. "We're inspired by the roleplaying game," Daviau said, "and we're obviously inspired by tabletop battle miniature games. My codesigner Steve Baker has played and designed a number of tabletop miniature games, so we're inspired by both of those, but we've abstracted it down to be a board game to keep the scope reasonable for an evening's D&D session. And to keep the table space down."
Player-characters are transferred to this more abstract board game via cards that represent each class at one of three tiers: recruit, veteran, and legend. Those cards delineate which abilities are important to that class, and what special power they have. The ranger's grasping vines, for instance, can be used on enemies on wilderness tiles. The heroes bounce across the board rather than wading into melee and staying there, and it's easy to imagine it like fantasy warfare in fiction. You might lead a sortie to see off an artillery piece one moment, then prevent an assassin from attacking a commander the next, all of which influences the attrition on the battlefront.
As someone who found the Dragonlance books a bit patchy and the setting's deviations from the generic (like using steel instead of gold for currency) to be gimmicky, Warriors of Krynn feels like it's given Dragonlance a reason to exist again. While another setting like Eberron deals with post-war progress, winding the Dragonlance clock back to the beginning of the War of the Lance lets it fill a niche other settings have avoided.
Plus, I'm more interested in a new board game co-developed by people who worked on the excellent Betrayal Legacy and the fondly remembered HeroQuest than what I expected Warriors of Krynn to be: a miniatures ruleset that clunkily tried to modify the blessedly straightforward D&D 5E into something it's not.
In fact, Warriors of Krynn doesn't even use d20s. "Its roots were D&D," Daviau said. "It started out with a 20-sider and a few more D&D things, then we gave it space to be a cousin, a companion game rather than just trying to be a recreation of the D&D system." It's not a legacy game either, though it does have things in common with them. There will be some progression and permanence, with reputation cards won in one scenario carrying over to the next, and new packs of cards you only open once you reach the appropriate tier.
The inspiration actually went in the other direction, Daviau said. "Legacy games were heavily inspired by D&D. You pick up where you left off last week, if you killed a monster it's still dead, and if you have an item it's still there."
Shadow of the Dragon Queen and Warriors of Krynn will be available from December 6 separately or in a bundle. You can preorder (opens in new tab) a version of the adventure that comes with early access to a digital edition on D&D Beyond (opens in new tab) from November 22.