If there's a part of Dungeons & Dragons worldbuilding and mythology that people might be aware of without even realizing they're looking at Dungeons & Dragons it's Dragonlance. Over 190 books have used this setting, it's been present in video games, it made its debut in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and now it is finally part of 5th Edition. How does a new adventure in this returning land measure up to the tough competition though?
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen - The World of Dragonlance
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen is a Level 1-10 campaign that takes place in the world of Krynn. While the majority of content for 5th edition so far has been set in the Forgotten Realms, primarily focused on the cities and communities surrounding the Sword Coast, Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen gives players a break from all of that. For a lot of players that might mean fresh experiences and the great unknown, for others, it might mean leaving the familiarity and consistency of a region you're aware of. Something like taking a gap year or traveling abroad, the world of Krynn is filled with new sights, people, and customs that you'll need to brush up on while creating your character.
The first twenty pages of the Dragonlance campaign book are all about the world of Krynn, its history, and the denizens of the world. This is not an all-encompassing history or a detailed analysis of each region of the map but instead, this history focuses on two things; the great Cataclysm that occurred 300 years before the campaign that tore the world into what's now known as the Time of Darkness, and the history of Takhisis The Dragon Queen on Krynn, her initial banishment, and tease of her return. In just a few pages, the DM has everything they need to answer questions about the world and create informed NPCs for the party to interact with. Depending on your player's needs you might need to build more out yourself or delve deep into the narrative history of Dragonlance, but for the most part, it shouldn't be a worry. Throughout this section the standard world information is delivered in regard to the kinds of things parties would interact with including languages, calendar systems, and deities.
It's not just the history of the world that is imparted upon you but also the prominent species of the world and where you'll find them. Learn all about the local populations of Dwarves, Elves, Gnomes, Humans, and more. In a post-Cataclysm world, there's a lot of importance in understanding the backgrounds of each species and how it has found its way to that place in the world. A good example is the humans that settle in the Northern and Southern regions of Ergoth, a location that was physically ruptured during the Cataclysm. As a pseudo-post-apocalyptic setting, but one that's set 300 years after said apocalypse, it's interesting to read about a society that isn't just dealing with the initial trauma and fallout of a big disaster, but one that's on its way to pick up all the pieces, and while the world will never be the same they're able to find comfort in it once more.
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen - New Player Features
The new species that is introduced with Dragonlance is the Kender. If you thought that Halflings were close enough to Tolkein's Hobbits to infringe copyrite then the Kender take that step even closer. This species is described to be short in stature and fearlessly looking for additional adventures, their knack for sticky fingers and engaging in dangerous activities routinely lands Kender in hot water. One of their traits is Taunt, which lets them fluster enemies within 60 ft of them for a chance at imposing a disadvantage on an enemy's next round of attack rolls. Interestingly this is just a slight alternative from the Kobold Draconic Cry but instead of enemies having a saving throw to not attack at disadvantage, the Kobold gives all allies an advantage on attacks.
Dragonlance takes an interesting approach to the creation of backgrounds and subclasses that are specific to the setting. For martial characters, there are the Knights of Solamnia and for spellcasters, there are the Mages of High Sorcery. This background will not only inform the upbringing of your character and what trials and tribulations they've needed to face to reach this point in their career, but also will open up the Dragonlance-specific feats.
This idea is a really neat one and brings to mind ideas of class skill trees from RPGs, that if you want to obtain the Knight Of The Rose feat you need to be 4th level, but also have become a Squire of Solamnia through your background. This section took a few reads to truly understand but allows you to tie closer together the progression of a character and their abilities to the advancement in their station within the game world. The player doesn't just become more powerful at level 4 and learn a feat, but they get to progress in their rank as part of the Knights of Solamnia. For players interested in roleplay it's a good way to tie in new abilities with things your character would actually learn.
Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen - The Adventure Begins
Pretty much all D&D adventures are about a small group getting together and making big changes in the world. The structure of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen is much larger than any prior campaigns. Whether it be that the party is a group of misfits that thwarted some small villainous plot, or took down a Vampire Lord and saved a region, it all begins with a group getting together not knowing they were intended for greatness. In the Prologue's setup in Dragonlance players will encounter their gods, learn of a higher calling at institutions of learning, and become immediately ingrained in the world. This is the kind of party that you don't just want to be "some guy" in.
From the very beginning, the Campaign Book introduces a variety of prologue events for different characters. How Clerics are called to by a deity, how soldiers are forged, and how a spellcaster graduates with their abilities. These 1st level prologues aren't just a way for the party to work towards their second level but are an important part of the narrative call that has the party pre-destined for greatness. As you're reading about the forest clearing where a statue of a deity is nestled among ruins and the soft glow that greets the character as they're imbued with magical abilities and the crusade to spread their word and power it feels more like reading a fantasy novel than a D&D campaign book.
This grand scale of events isn't just seen in the narrative elements and the journey that the party takes to stop the Red Dragon Army, but also in the larger-scale battles that take place. There aren't as many battles in Dragonlance that are as easy as "You walk into a room of a certain size, and are ambushed by a pack of Kobolds". Instead, combat is set up in multiple stages, and often has a number of other objectives for the party to be involved in. For example, let's look at the attack on the small seaside town of Vogler.
Combat is initiated with the party having a wider awareness of the area you're fighting in. While the party might be at the River Gate of the village watching a scout be slain there might be additional villagers nearby that need to be escorted away or a surprise group of enemies waiting to enter the fray. These setups lead to combat with greater importance on the narrative and situational awareness around them, but also keep everything fresh and dynamic. Players will want to be aware of the different landscape features.
This scope to combat was something created to best pair the game with Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn, a board game intended to create the illusion of a larger battle around the party while allowing them to have their own agency in combat. Group combat isn't the only way that combat will be taking place so fans of traditional combat will still see it when you're in the smaller area or delving deep into ruins or towers.
The back of the book also contains a gorgeous poster-sized map of the World of Krynn. Not only will this player map help your party get a better idea of the lay of the land and where they're headed but also all of the embellishments you'd hope for in an in-universe map with ships in the sea, and dragons around the border. It's a fun and simple prop to lay out quickly and keep players really focused on the game.
What Are Our Final Thoughts on Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen?
I went into reading Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen expecting a standard adventure where a group of misfits get together and help save the world. What I got instead was an epic adventure where each party member, a main character in their own right, is able to be built up as a member of the world, integrating with the major organizations and becoming central in one of the largest events of the century. The world-building isn't as in-depth as it could be if you're someone who wants to create your own campaign in the world, but for the purpose of the campaign, the focus is very focused.
Should I Buy Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen?
Dragonlance is unique as a D&D Campaign book because of its specific focus. Normally I'd be able to fall back on "If you're interested in D&D and more adventures and more Species options for players then this is a book for you." Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen is such a specific campaign, with campaign focused Feats and Backgrounds, and Species backgrounds that are linked to the history of the world. For someone wanting a focused adventure, or a fan of the novels, then Dragonlance will be right up your alley.
The copy of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen used in this review was provided by the publisher.