" A trip down memory lane that ends in a flat tire next to the 7-11 they built on your old playground. "
Title: Dragonlance Campaign Setting by Wizards of the Coast
Format: Dungeons & Dragons D20 Campaign Setting
Reviewing Monkey: Genghis Kong
The Hype: Dragonlance has long been considered one of TSR's (back when they existed) strongest campaign settings, backed by a vast (and still growing) library of game fiction and a very solid fan following. From Fizban the Fabulous to Kender to Raistlin Majere to the Knights of Solamnia, Dragonlance has inspired many D&D gamers and been the setting of choice for many a campaign. So it came as a great surprise to many (the Game Monkeys included) when Wizards of the Coast did not release it as a setting sourcebook early on, and has only recently released it with the 3.5 Core Rules set on the horizon, after having already put up multiple books for Forgotten Realms, Rokugan, D20 Modern, and Star Wars. Yet here it is, finally, after years of waiting… the Dragonlance Campaign Setting core book. So was it worth waiting for? Let's see.
What This Monkey Thought...
Story and Drama: Dragonlance is arguably
the most popular of WotC's fiction lines, embodying some of the greatest D&D
plot traits--a party of great heroes, a war against all odds, epic struggles
of good versus evil, the fate of the world… and while all of this is great when
you're reading it for the first time at 14, you realize a few years later that
there's a greater depth of plot in the nutritional facts on a box of Cheerios.
Dragonlance isn't a bad setting, my Monkeys, it's just that it's so… so… two-dimensional
that you realize upon reading the novels and game information that it really
was written as a play-by-play of Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman's playtester
campaign. Speaking of the two creators of Dragonlance, Margaret Weis actually
returns to write the core book with her husband Don Perrin, but Tracy "the Mad
Mormon" Hickman writes… the intro. The intro? Why wasn't he an author? He's
not even credited!
And now I end my rambling rant and move on to the book itself. If there is one thing the Dragonlance Campaign Setting proves to me, it's that I've grown up a lot since my early teens. What seemed cool and unique when I was young now proves to be cliché and dull, and I realize that Dragonlance is only unique if you've never actually played D&D before. While there's a lot of nostalgia in it for longtime fans, it offers very little in the way of plot and story to entice anyone to play. In fact, it is set during the much-reviled Fifth Age rather than the classically favorite War of the Lance era, meaning that Paladine and Takhisis are absent from the world, magic is messed up, almost all of the Companions are dead, and worst of all, if you dropped out from reading Dragonlance after "Dragons of Summer Flame" like everyone else, your world-knowledge of Krynn is almost useless. This is a problem the same way people who don't read Star Wars novels have trouble with material in the New Jedi Order era of the Star Wars RPG, except that rather than being interesting, the Fifth Age is… well, dull and poorly-conceived, and considered by many to be a terrible addition to Dragonlance the same way the Godfather III is a terrible addition to the Godfather series, or possibly what New Coke is to the Coca-Cola line of beverages. While there's information on how to set your campaign in these other settings, the authors chose poorly in using the latter-day novels as their core setting, and should have done what Star Wars did and opted for a three-era setting. 2 out of 5.
Layout and Presentation: This book is ugly, no two ways about it. The text is crammed together in an attempt to maximize space, chapters tend to run together (making for difficult navigation), and worst of all, the art is ungodly awful. While there are some standout pieces by Ron Spencer and Lars Grant-West (and some unusually decent work by Rebecca Guay and Emily Fiegenschuh) that are worth seeing, the majority of remaining art (by a great collection of artists) was so bad that I considered burning the book. I try very hard not to touch it while flipping through books on my shelf, for fear I might view some of the art through osmosis. Why anyone would wait so long to print Dragonlance for D20 astounds the Conqueror Ape to no end, my Monkeys, but worse than that is waiting this long and then skimping completely on production value. It's simply inexcusable. 1.5 out of 5.
Playability: Dragonlance is, without a doubt, one of the most playable settings D&D ever created. Full of interesting races and one of the largest pantheons in the genre, it is likewise bolstered by a solid novelized fiction group, where reading any given trilogy will arm you with enough information to tackle the setting head-on like an expert. There are a few odd curveballs (changes in how some monster races work, no Halflings because of Kender, no Paladins, regimented magic), but for the most part, Dragonlance plays easier than even Forgotten Realms for the novice gamer, and holds a great amount of detail to interest the veteran player. The problem comes mostly in whether or not you would want to play this version, not whether or not you can play it. The races are good, the classes are good, but the setting lacks something, and that something is sense of purpose. There's nothing wrong with the setting, per se, but the Conqueror Ape came away from the current time placement feeling… well, feeling like he'd rather be reading his battle-hardened copy of Tales of the Lance instead. 4 out of 5.
Desired Content: If you wanted Solamnic Knights and Knights of Takhisis, you got… Solamnic Knights and Knights of Neraka (and the book explains the name change, not that it makes it cool). If you wanted Kender, Irda, and Krynn Minotaurs… you got those, too. If you wanted the Dragonlance pantheon, you got the Dragonlance pantheon… except for Paladine and Takhisis, though they're in the appendix. In short, most of the details a Dragonlance fan would ask for in the book are actually in the book, with enough detail to satisfy a hardcore enthusiast. The problem is that once the novelty of such things is over with, Genghis Kong was unimpressed. Sure, the details are there, but there's very little about them that's exciting, or makes you want to play the theme. It all comes off as extremely bland and lifeless, and the choice to set it during the Fifth Age just crushes this monkey's will to go on. It all feels rather like a movie you start out excited to see, and then once you've paid your arm and leg for a ticket and a large popcorn, you watch the film and afterward wonder if you can get your two hours, arm, and leg back somehow. If there are future supplements for the Dragonlance line, I hope they don't turn out this limp and torpid. 2 out of 5.
|I wanted this to be a good supplement, my Monkeys. Genghis Kong has many fond memories of reading Dragonlance tales and finding himself inspired to take up a lance and ride a silver dragon off to stab Takhisis in one of her many heads. Unfortunately for me (and for the rest of you), the thrill is gone, and the theme moves on… to something less inspiring. While not a total failure, and certainly worth picking up for the parts of it that are good, you're on your own for making it an interesting campaign setting. Wizards of the Coast is not helping you out.|
The Good: All the classic Dragonlance races and classes, standing on the shoulders of those who have gone before.
The Bad: All the classic Dragonlance vapidity, and the person standing at the top of the shoulder pyramid looks like he's about to take a swan dive.
The Overall Ugly: A trip down memory lane that ends in a flat tire next to the 7-11 they built on your old playground.
What it's Worth: Since WotC has a tendency to overcharge, about 75% market.