Knights, dragons, draconians, kender, gully dwarves, and a shitload of books that a huge amount of nerds have read. It's mostly the result of reading too much Tolkien in the '70s and an unhealthy obsession with dragons. The hook for Dragonlance is that Dungeons & Dragons had a surfeit of dungeons already and needed to get started with those dragons.
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, with their friends, created the setting after a long session of D&D, eventually splitting the party when people moved away, going as far as finishing their game and making it into a book. The setting in itself is dark - postcataclysmic in fact, in the first modules and books: Even the kindest gods are egotistical assholes who are perfectly content to make the world suffer for one man's hubris, stooping to mortal levels of pettiness in a manner that would make the fucking Greek Pantheon wince (more on that below and in the Setting Section).
Also, it's low magic as fuck, at least when in comes to divine magic: a famous dude is called "Twice-Born" simply because he got offed and was revived via magic. The reason is that the gods abandoned the world after the aforementioned Cataclysm, when they dropped a mountain on the city of Istar because the Kingpriest demanded that they elevate him to their level after turning Istar into a police state out of George Orwell's nightmares in the name of "good." The gods of arcane magic remained in contact with the world in their own inscrutable way to keep it going.
Arcane magic, called High Sorcery, is heavily regulated. Everybody who displays magical talent is required to report to a Tower of High Sorcery for instruction and indoctrination. In order to advance, every wizard has to take a highly-personalized Test. Those who take the Test often have to sacrifice something inherent to themselves to pass. A full wizard then has to choose a color-coded Order: White, Red, or Black, corresponding to good, neutral, and evil. The choice is supposed to represent how you'll use your magic and all wizards are brothers within the Towers, but outside those walls, nothing stops a Black Robe from knifing his White Robe "brothers" in the back or blowing up their cottages with fireballs.
Dragonlance is mostly known for its books than anything. There's literally hundreds of novels in this setting, in all kinds of eras, to the extent a lot of people don't even know that the first trilogy was made to promote one of TSR's newest D&D settings or that there was even a 3rd edition release of the setting. Even amongst those who are aware, Dragonlance tends to suffer similarly to the Forgotten Realms; everybody feels there's no point RPGing there because all of the "fun stuff" has already been done by the authors.
The setting is fairly interesting, in its own way, with a lot of positive traits. For example, it's one of the few settings to focus on giving lots of variety to demihumans as well as humans - dwarves, for example, come in at least three major typings (Hill, Mountain and Dark), with each typing being made of multiple ethnicities, or clans.
The setting began with a trilogy, focusing on a band of adventurers, and their quest to stop the world being conquered by armies of dragonriders, goblins and draconians in league with Takhisis, Goddess of Evil. The reason why all this happened? Well, that's a long story...
... and we're gonna give it to you.
In the beginning, the Gods decided to create the world. In doing so, they split into three factions: Good, Neutral, and Evil. The leaders of the three factions each created their own races: Paladine, god of good, created the Elves, Takhisis, Goddess of Evil, created the Ogres(originally called the Irda), and Gilean, God of Neutrality created Humans. Takhisis and Paladine also created the Chromatic and Metallic Dragons, respectively. Takhisis and her Dragons then waged quite a few wars to try and conquer the world. The Third Dragon War ended when the knight Huma Dragonbane, with the blessings of the Gods, struck Takhisis with the Dragonlance, causing her pain for the first time, and forcing her to promise never to invade Krynn again. There was peace at last. Until some idiots had to screw it up.
In short, centuries ago, the King-Priest of Paladine, resident God of Good, went totally mad with power. Using an artifact-tier magical crown to basically let him mindrape people into obeying him, he set up a totaliarian police state in which all evil was punished, with his definition of evil growing increasingly broader - probably not helped by the fact he had particularly racist elves who considered themselves the perfect, Paladine-created race with all others being inferior in some fairly important positions. He even went to the trouble of using clerical agents to mind-probe random people to seek out thought-crimes.
As you might guess, this kind of upset the whole "balance between good and evil" thing, which is kind of important to the setting. However, the setting claims that the "upsetting" this did was by making Good stronger than Evil. If this rings at all hollow to you, then congratulations, you're putting more thought into this than the original authors did. Or at least your brain hasn't been fried by your particular flavor of faith -- they were both pretty devout Mormons, after all.
So, anyway, the gods get pissed and start sending omens. Heatwaves, unseasonal storms, turning the sky funky colors... you know, just enough mystical crap to make people scared that something bad is going down, but absolutely nowhere near a straight answer as to why they're ticked. The real reason? The King-Priest wants to demand the Gods make him a god too, so he can "wipe out all evil forever".
The day before the big ceremony, the gods snatch up all their clerics and spirit them away to their homes in the planes. Those who refuse to come, they leave behind, but strip them of all their clerical powers.
And then the big day comes. The King-Priest demands the gods elevate him to their ranks, and the gods respond like any sane, rational all-powerful beings would - by grabbing a huge-ass meteor and smacking him right in the face with it. This literally reshaped the whole continent in the process - the kingdom of Istar becomes an inland sea, coasts change, famine and fire and pestilence runs rampant, and there's nobody around who can use any divine magic to try and reduce the nastiness. Later the continent Taladas was retconned into this world; which got even worse hit, despite doing absolutely nothing wrong.
After things quiet down, the gods wait for the mortals to apologize for the hubris of the King-Priest. Instead, the mortals demand to know what the hell the gods were thinking doing all this to them over one man and his wrongheadedness. In a huff, the gods declare the mortals will no longer benefit from their powers and they stop allowing any divine magic to be used at all.
Cue the present day, in which people sadly realize they turned their back on the gods, believing that none of them will answer their prayers anymore. Wew.
Eventually, Takhisis realises that while the other gods are busy ignoring the world, she can wriggle back into it and conquer it. She wakes up her armies of evil dragons, steals the eggs of the good dragons, starts converting the stolen eggs into her monster minions (whilst lying to the good dragons that their eggs will be safe if they just let her minions do what they want), and gets to work. The ancient "good" dragons are somehow tricked into this. The moment they discover the truth, they immediately join in the War against Takhisis.
And that's when the first trilogy starts, ending with Takhisis beaten back, the other gods returning, and divine magic being restored. Until the next big setting-changing upheaval, anyway.
Krynn is home to its own unique assortment of races.
When the gods were first creating the world, each of the alignment-based subpantheons created a single race, and from these races descend all of the other races of Krynn.
- Humans - Creations of the Gods of Neutrality. The most important race in Ansalon, by default. Not necessarily their rank in Krynn's other continents as will be retconned at Taladas.
- Elves - Creations of the Gods of Good. Despite this, they are constantly fucking things over for the world. Like in the Forgotten Realms, there are multiple different species, most of which are ethnicities for specific races. Krynn is most notable on the elf-front for having aquatic elves who both repeat the high elf/wood elf split internally and possess unique shapeshifting abilities.
- Ogres - Creations of the Gods of Evil. However, these weren't the ugly, dumb, savage brutes we think of today, but basically giant evil blue elves. Their culture fell into decline, and they split into two races; modern "Low" Ogres, who are prettymuch the same as ogres in other settings, and the Irda, who renounced evil when their people began to degenerate and so have preserved their magical mary sue natures.
Commonly called the Races of Chaos or the Graygem Races, because the largest result of these races appearing is generally tied to the influence of the Graygem of Chaos. Basically, any race that wasn't one of the original three races created by the gods - this includes aquatic elves, who actually mutated from the original elves at a later date.
- Tinker Gnomes - Humans cursed by Reorx into bumbling inventors.
- Dwarves - Tinker gnomes warped by the Graygem into stolid, doughty but conservative creatures.
- Kender - Halflings if they were based on annoying sticky-fingered little brats instead of idealized English countryfolk. Warped from tinker gnome stock by the Graygem.
- Minotaurs - Ogres warped by the Graygem into humanoid bulls.
- Goblinoids - Goblins, Hobgoblins and Bugbears exist on Krynn, but their origin is little known.
- Centaurs - Believed to be human nomads or riders warped by the Graygem.
- Kyrie - Believed to be human bird-watchers warped by the Graygem.
- Phaethon - Elves with the blood of the god Habbakuk, giving them fiery wings.
- Thanoi - Walruses warped into brutish humanoids by the Graygem.
- Ursoi - Polar bears warped into humanoids by the Graygem.
- Draconians - Humanoid dragons created by magically warping the unhatched offspring of Metallic Dragons.
Krynn has undergone many different Ages of note throughout its history.
Age of Dreams: The dawn of the world.
The First Dragonwars: Takhisis first attempts to conquer the world with her armies of black robed wizards, evil clerics and Chromatic Dragons, battling the forces of the Gods of Good and their Metallic Dragon allies.
The Reign of Istar: A theocratic empire ostensibly dedicated to the Gods of Good claims dominion over the world. Its ruler, the King-Priest, ultimately causes the Cataclysm.
The Post-Cataclysm: The centuries where the mortal races rebuild their civilizations without the use of divine magic.
The War of the Lance: Takhisis sneaks back to Krynn and tries to invade it again, forcing the other gods to finally come back so they can stop her.
The Second War of the Lance: Takhisis' remaining forces strive to resume their crusade. Raistlin attempts to open the portal to the Abyss and challenge Takhisis so he can usurp her place. Goes horribly wrong.
The Chaos Wars: The overdeity Chaos is freed and it seeks to unmake the world. After it is defeated, the gods declare they're going to leave Krynn forever, because they've brought too much suffering. In reality, Takhisis basically "stole" the planet from under their noses and hid it from them.
The Age of Dragon Overlords: Giant dragons from alien worlds arrive on Krynn and use bizarre high-magic rituals fueled by the souls of slaughtered dragons to magically terraform the regions they conquer to their living.
The Age of Mortals: Takisis attempts to enslave the world under the guise of a new monotheistic deity. The other gods come back and kick her ass, with Paladine sacrificing his own godhood to end Takhisis' threat forever.
Covered in the 3e splatbook "Legends of the Twins", named after the novel series revolving around timetravel, these are the known alternate timelines branched off from Krynn:
- Kingpriest Ascendant: The Cataclysm never happened, and instead the Kingpriest of Istar pulled off his plan to steal the gods' power and rule the world.
- Magocracy of Ansalon: In the wake of the Cataclysm, the surviving wizards got together and decided "yeah, fuck those rules about not interfering with secular authority; the priests fucked it up for us!" and patched civilization back together, creating a world that is actually way better off than mainstream Krynn, all at the cost of clerics being persecuted and religion banned.
- Dragonlands: Takhisis won the War of the Lance, and the world is trying desperately to fight off her influence.
- Hourglass in the Sky: This is the alternate timeline created by Raistlin killing Takhisis, and then murder-hoboing his way through the rest of Krynn's pantheon when they come after him to avenge her. Because he can't figure out the "create life" aspect of god magic, he's basically going to obliterate everything.
- War of the Darklance: Chaos never broke free of the Graygem, so instead the Knights of Takhisis, spiritual successors to the Dragonarmies from the War of the Lance, are focused on trying to conquer the world.
- Age of Dragons: Takhisis doesn't steal away Krynn after the defeat of Chaos, so instead everybody is given a chance to ask "so, what the fuck do we do now?"
Krynn is home to one of the most dysfunctional and fractious pantheons in all of Dungeons & Dragons, with even the gods of the Forgotten Realms rolling their eyes at their constant infighting and squabbling.
It wasn't always like this. Tracy Hickman was a devout Latter Day Saint circa 1980, just off a stint of bringing the good news of the Third Testament to Indonesia. Accordingly the very first module is all about how the
Lamanite tribal princess received, first, a crystal MacGuffin staff and then swaps that out for some shiny gold tablets. Then follows a release from bondage (DL2) and a journey through the wilderness (DL3) to the promised land of safety. The story got less LOLDS as more authors got involved and as Hickman himself matured as an author, and understood that he was not going to become the Salt-Lake CS Lewis.
|The deities of Dragonlance|
|Good||Paladine||Branchala - Habbakuk - Kiri-Jolith - Majere - Mishakal - Solinari|
|Neutral||Gilean||Chislev - Lunitari - Reorx - Shinare - Sirrion - Zivilyn|
|Evil||Takhisis||Chemosh - Hiddukel - Morgion - Nuitari - Sargonnas - Zeboim|
Whether or not Dragonlance is part of the Great Wheel is something that has flipflopped between editions. In AD&D, this was the case, but in 3e, it has a more unique planar layout, described thusly:
- The realm of Krynn is comprised of a number of planes of existence, spread throughout the Ethereal Sea. These planes are all interwoven with one another; however are still all very independent realms in their own right. Most mortal creatures of Krynn only know of the Material Plane, in which they dwell, but their world is far more complex than this.
- The realm of Krynn is a complex mix of not only the Material Plane, but also of a number of Inner Planes, Outer Planes and The Gray. There are also countless demiplanes linked to a number of the aforementioned larger planes of existence. The planes are all set within a sphere, with the Inner Planes actually being emanations from the Outer Planes into the Gray, and then having various direct impacts on the Material Plane.
- All of these planes are set against the backdrop of the Ethereal Sea, which is said to house hundreds or even thousands of other worlds, well beyond the reckoning of anyone on Krynn.
The planar cosmology of Krynn in 3e is thus:
- The Material (Prime Material Plane)
- The Inner Planes, which consist of the Elemental Planes of Earth/Air/Water/Fire, and the Positive and Negative Energy Planes
- The Outer Planes, consisting of the Dome of Creation, Gate of Souls, River of Souls, The Abyss and The Hidden Vale
- The Gray, which combines the Astral Plane, Ethereal Plane, and Plane of Shadow
- The Beyond, which is made up of the Ethereal Sea (Deep Ethereal) and the Void of Chaos
On Krynn, the first form of magic was "Primal Sorcery", which drew directly from the world itself - not in a Defiler way, but more like the Sorcerers of 3e D&D. This was later replaced by a new codified and "balanced" form of arcane magic, created by the three lunar gods (Solinari, Lunitari, Nuitari) and drawing from their respective moons. This led to the development of Wizards, who organized themselves into three quasi-priestly orders - the White Robes of Solinari (Good), the Red Robes of Lunitari (Neutral) and the Black Robes of Nuitari (Evil) - and founded the organization known as the Towers of High Sorcery, which stamped out all forms of arcane magic not controlled by themselves.
Divine magic is traditionally very low-powered, to the point that the humble Raise Dead spell is all but unheard of - the last guy canonically known to pull it off was the King-Priest of Istar. Arcane magic, however, was not so restrained. However, after the events known as the Trial of the Twins, when the ultra-powerful Black Robe wizard Raistlin nearly succeeded in his attempt to kill Takhisis but was stopped when his time-traveling brother showed him that this would have led to Raistlin having to fight all of the other gods, which would have ended up in a Pyrrhic victory where he won but exterminated all life in the process, the Gods collectively decided that they weren't going to risk being shown up by their creations anymore. So this led to a new policy where any spellcasting character who gets to a sufficiently high level, arcane or divine, is forcibly Plane Shifted off to Sigil so they can't screw around with Krynn anymore.
After the events known as the War of Chaos, when the gods "vanished", both arcane and divine magic stopped working right. This led to the resurgence of Primal Sorcery, and a new divine magic equivalent called Mysticism. After the gods returned to Krynn yet again, allowing the "classic" forms of magic to function once again, this had led to considerable unrest between the "old" casters (the clerics and wizards) and the "new" casters (the sorcerers and mystics).
The Adventures That Started It All
The original series of adventures were published from 1984 to 1986, under the DL- prefix. This is the first true Adventure Path, going from Basic-Set levels up to Epic. G1-2-3: Against the Giants can suck it.
That said, the DL Series as we got it has not aged well, being infamous for railroading. This led to threadbare adventure hooks that artificially carry the protagonists from Point A to Point B, the criminal sin of splitting the party long-term for 2/3rds of the plot, and in the later adventures an over-reliance on the Dungeon Master having read the book series in order to make sense of events. With some exceptions the DL series closely follows the events in the books, and instead of making your own PCs you were expected to choose one of several pre-generated characters from Weis' and Hickman's micromanaging brains. The average party size was quite large, and only gets bigger as more NPCs end up joining throughout the adventures; even the party-split only partially alleviates this. If you're wondering how much the plot can be disrupted by unexpected PC deaths, not even a TPK can free you from the railroad tracks thanks to an "Obscure Death" variant rule where plot-important PCs suffer off-screen deaths and reappear later.
The Modules, in order:
DL 1: Dragons of Despair: The PCs are chilling out in an idyllic frontier region when the party Cleric comes to them with news of the true gods and a magical healing staff, but needs to retrieve holy scriptures from a dungeon overrun by draconians.
DL 2: Dragons of Flame: The Dragonarmies invade the aforementioned frontier region and start capturing people to use as slaves. The party gets captured via an unwinnable battle and are rescued by elves, who in turn get their princess kidnapped and the PCs have to rescue her and the slaves from a military fortress. The 'climax' of this adventure is watching big-ass two dragons fight, and the PCs have no means of participating in the outcome.
DL 3: Dragons of Hope: The PCs escort the slaves south in Mormon Exodus: D&D Edition to the supposed safe haven of the dwarf kingdom of Thorbardin. Don't worry, this is about the end of Hickman's attempt to convert your gaming-table.
DL 4: Dragons of Desolation: PCs get railroaded into a dwarf civil war between the Good Dwarfs and Bad Dwarfs who are in league with the Dragonarmies. They get railroaded into helping out the former or end up under arrest, and get the opportunity to visit a floating tomb-dungeon whose only inhabitant is a good-natured prankster dragon...whose traps can kill. The climax of the adventure is fighting the Red Dragonarmy leader near a giant pit of death, but the PCs never get a a THIS IS SPARTA moment cuz the bad guy throws himself in when the battle turns against him.
DL 5: Dragons of Mystery: Not an adventure, but an outline of the world of Krynn.
DL 6: Dragons of Ice: The party splits up in the cold southern city of Tarsis and visits a glacier-covered castle because an old man told them to. Said castle has the White Dragonarmy leader and a Dragon Orb, a cursed artifact which can control the minds of dragons and drive them insane.
DL 7: Dragons of Light: The PCs get railroaded onto an island by having their ship sink at sea. Coincidentally said island also has the elf refugees from the mainland who are enslaving the indigenous wood elves but somehow still remain Chaotic Good. A silver dragon in disguise helps the party find an ancient forge for the Dragonlances, which get tested out in combat when some white dragons invade the sanctum.
DL 8: Dragons of War: The PCs lead an army of knights in defending a sacred tower from the Blue Dragonarmies. Unlike the earlier modules, this battle can be resolved in a variety of ways and the adventure keeps going even if they lose. Said tower is an explorable dungeon containing various treasures and sidequests which can turn the tide of war, like helping a high priest ghost find his missing chess piece or using the Dragon Orb to get the blue dragons to fly into the dungeon's many traps.
DL 9: Dragons of Deceit: Silvara and the PCs infiltrate the EVUUUULLLLL City of Sanction to rescue the good dragon eggs held hostage under a temple and which are being turned into draconians. The adventure's climax involves the PCs riding on the backs of metallic dragons besieging Sanction and fighting the chromatic dragons in aerial combat.
DL 10: Dragons of Dreams: The PCs who split off back in Dragons of Ice accompany a different elven princess east to the ruined kingdom of Silvanesti. A green dragon with a Dragon Orb is responsible for the warped, nightmarish landscape and the curse can be lifted based on a coin-flip. No really, the key to Silvanesti's freedom depends on the result of casting coins into a river, whose sides tell the PCs how to end the nightmare.
DL 11: Dragons of Glory: A sourcebook for TSR's BATTLESYSTEM rules, for all of your mass combat needs. Was oddly released after Dragons of War in which it would have been most useful.
DL 12: Dragons of Faith: The PCs commandeer a ship in an evil port city and yet again get railroaded into it sinking (starting to see a pattern here). They end up in an undersea kingdom populated by elves (PATTERNS) fighting off the Dragonarmies' underwater allies. They also meet a mysterious man with a gemstone in his chest who may or may not be the key to defeating the Dragonarmies.
DL 13: Dragons of Truth: The PCs visit a holy shrine to the gods in the middle of Takhisis' Empire of Evil, and must conduct a series of tests to beat the dungeon.
DL 14: Dragons of Triumph: The PCs un-split and reunite for an epic battle in the Empire's capital city. The adventure has one of six different ending sequences for how to shut down the portal which would allow Takhisis into the world. A few of them are cool and epic involving fighting the Evil Emperor or distracting Takhisis on the other side of the portal while the rest of the party shuts it down. While others are lamer, such as sneaking into the basement and breaking the gemstone chest guy's chest.
That's it for the adventure as first envisioned. As for cutting room floor sweepings:
- DL 15: Mists of Krynn: Stats for notable NPCs, 12 mini-adventures, and descriptions of Ansalon's races and draconians.
- DL 16: World of Krynn: Four larger adventures for PCs here.
- Tales of the Lance: The box set. If you think you're better than Hickman, here is the Gazetteer to sandbox all the lore so you can prove it.
- DLA1-2-3: Taladas series: Happens on that other continent. But it is Takhisis / Dragon based, irrelevant to that continent's own Big Bad; so it is best slotted as a DL adjunct.
Rick Swan and others attempted some sequels to the main story in Ansalon. Which didn't take off. Once you've rescued the princess in Super Mario, do you really want to go back looking for more coins and goombah?
Dragons of Quaking Cleavage
Somewhere out there exists a Dragons of Autumn Twilight movie. It was an adaptation of the first novel in the Dragonlance canon / DL1-2. It combined CGI with traditional 2-D cel animation.
Unfortunately, the cel animation had the quality of an early 80's Saturday morning cartoon, which is not surprising considering that the movie was directed by Will Meugniot, whose whole career has been in Saturday morning cartoons, and the CGI was even worse. Its star-studded cast included Kiefer "Jack Bauer" Sutherland, Lucy "Xena: Warrior Princess" Lawless and Michelle "Harriet the Spy" Trachtenberg - which probably would have been something to brag about in the mid-'90s, or maybe even during peak Battlestar Galactica, but the movie was made in 2008.
On the um, plus side, it has gratuitous dragonboobs. And we don't mean "there are female dragon characters that happen to have boobs" (biologically cheesy enough), we're talking about close-up shots of just the cleavage. And also gratuitous bar wench boob jiggling. And the same bar wench "adjusting" her boobs. And god-boobs. And I'm not even 15 minutes into it yet.
- Dragonlance Nexus - Fan site and materials.
- Wikia/Fandom page
- -An animated/CGI adaptation of the original film. Largely considered by most to be the distilled essence of FAIL, its also unfortunately the only adaptation we'll likely have in a while. And by "fail" we're talking about Food Fight levels of fail.
-  - An honest to God Russian play about Raistlin Majere. A VERY loose adaptation of the Twins Trilogy that came after the first trilogy.