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D&D Dragonlance Reboot Is More Than Nostalgia, Less Than It Could Be

The return of Dragonlance is complex and beautiful, but its rebooted rules and its first campaign could be better.

Long-time Dungeons & Dragons players know there's a lot more to Dragons than just winged kaiju sitting on treasure hordes. In the time of Dragonlance these magical beasts are so much more interesting, and thanks to the folks at Wizards of the Coast we now have new stories, rules and campaigns set in the time of Dragons and the great wars they were used in. 

The new campaign, Shadow of the Dragon Queen, was released in December alongside a new Warriors of Krynn board game, both set in the rebooted Dragonlance era. This review will focus on the campaign book and its surrounding rules, but you can buy both as a set and it comes with a cool game master screen. 

The Shadow of the Dragon Queen campaign book will feel immediately familiar to D&D players. The campaign largely follows a tried-and-true campaign format, setting up a milestone-based story for players to grow from level 1 to 11. The book itself is 224 pages long, around 25 pages shorter than other big story campaigns you'd find on the shelf today. But you'd be hard-pressed to notice the loss when thumbing through it, because you'll be way too busy appreciating the incredible art throughout. This story is the most visually impressive D&D book in recent memory, with artwork on nearly every page telling stories that will at a minimum make it easy for game masters to describe the vibrant world their players are entering. 

Dragonlance Characters
Wizards of the Coast

Thoughtful character creation is key

Character creation and early development within the Shadow of the Dragon Queen campaign requires a fair bit more hand-holding than your average D&D game. The book doesn't do a great job making that clear to the game master, who will need to keep it in mind for a smooth game. Rushing through the early parts of this book is a great way to get your players to roll new characters, as the difficulty even before level 5 can be significant for players of any kind. The book includes what it calls preludes, which take place before the first chapter, but there's little indication that skipping them is a bad idea if you like your players.

There are premade characters, as in all D&D campaigns, but using them places a lot more work on the game master. Leveling up a character in D&D takes time, and tends to work best when the player is invested in the character. And because Shadow of the Dragon Queen is set up to be dangerous for players of just about every skill level, the choices made in the first couple of levels are significant. Anyone running this campaign should make it clear to the party that the first few sessions need to be played with as few interruptions as possible. Scheduling is, after all, the most difficult monster in any campaign. 

It is at this point in our story we need to have a conversation about alignment and classes. Spellcasters in Dragonlance are offered a first-level spell based on their alignment. If your character is aligned evil, you're allowed a spell from the Warlock class. If you're neutral you get one from Druid, and good characters get to choose from Cleric. While I find the idea genuinely interesting, its execution creates a typecast I don't necessarily agree with. Even within the confines of a D&D story written by Wizards of the Coast, all Warlocks are not evil, nor are all Clerics good or Druids neutral. This is fairly easy to address with your character when playing at home, but the addition feels out of place in a world where D&D has become more flexible and creative. 

Dragonlance Robot Chicken

I dare you to get through this part of the book without laughing. 

Wizards of the Coast

Welcome back to Krynn, everyone

Without spoiling anything about the campaign itself, Shadow of the Dragon Queen does a fantastic job balancing stressful combat and puzzles with lighthearted comedy and occasionally emotional situations. This campaign doesn't hold back, it will actively try to eliminate your players if you play as written and the party will need to coordinate and cooperate to survive, but the entertainment in between helps balance a lot. From giant metal chickens to the triumphant return of a war machine called The Goblinflinger (you get two guesses what it does) it's great to see a healthy balance in what has historically been a emotionally heavy time period for the peoples of Krynn.

Overall, there's a lot to love about Shadow of the Dragon Queen. It does a decent job modernizing Dragonlance for the fifth edition of D&D, but it could be a lot more than it is. The work done to update Dragonlance feels separated from all of the changes we've seen in early releases of the new D&D One system, which is strange when you consider how frequently Wizards of the Coast talk about this story and Spelljammer alongside the upcoming rules. All the same, game masters with a flair for modifying a story to suit their home campaigns are going to enjoy this new playground to build in, and at the end of the day I think those are always the best D&D experiences.