"You can certainly enjoy this book without playing the game -- but what a game it is!"
Original SA post
Part One - "You can certainly enjoy this book without playing the game -- but what a game it is!"
I've had this book on my shelf for years and years now, but haven't picked it up since high school. My LanceLore is similarly dated, as my attempts to reread the books have mostly been met with failure, so this is going to end up being a lot of "text as is" review, rather than connections to the novels and world at large. Please feel free to correct and add where I'm falling short!
We open this tome with a very pleasant
commercial for other products you could buy
preface by the authors of the terribly successful series of novels. Weis and Hickman start by telling us that there is simply too much information about the setting to be stuffed into one book, but they did the best they could. Also, buy their books! They've already written a bunch of modules and novels (The
trilogy, and the DRAGONLANCE® Tales anthologies)you can read if you want to know more about the world. Understandably, they assume you have access to a PHB and DMG, so reference to those will require you to dig out your book and check. Other manuals, like the
Dungeoneer's Survival Guide
Wilderness Survival Guide
, you might not own, but don't worry, the book should still be usable without them.
as bad as Paizo's constant shilling for all the other products you can buy, because there's no implied guilt about continuing the traditions of the One True D&D, but still, we're only on page one guys...
They close by telling us that everything that's actually relevant to running the game or the AD&D system has been offset in little grey boxes for easy reference. We'll see if that actually holds true or not as we go...
- The Realms Above
Fizban the Supremely-Powerful-God-Who-Likes-to-Pretend-to-be-an-Absent-Minded-Wizard gives us an overview of the cosmology of the DRAGONLANCE® universe. Basically, there were gods who were the children of the High God. This was all well and good, until it was decided that a new time and place would come into being. There was primordial chaos, and Reorx the Forging God beat it until it was a universe. This attracted spirits from all over, and the gods fought for possession of these spirits. The gods are divided along the usual D&D lines, with Good, Evil, and Neutral gods all embodying their stock interpretations. The good gods gave the spirits life, physical form, and dominion over the world. They hoped that the spirits would bring peace and order, and spread righteousness. The evil gods created hunger, thirst, and the need to work to satisfy these things, in the hope that they could dominate the spirits through starvation and suffering. The neutral gods come off horribly here, though: they decided to give the spirits free will, so they can choose between peace and order, or starving to death in subjugation to the forces of evil.
Yep, quite the choice there
The gods then create Krynn, the planet on which the spirits will live.
This alignment system is baked into the world at its very core, by the way, in something called the Great Triangle. Good, Evil, and Neutrality are the pillars upon which the world is built, and the gods who stand at the points of the triangle will constantly angle to "maintain progress in the universe they have brought into being."
This whole section is actually pretty well written, without a lot of the usual Gygaxian adjectives and purple prose, but my freshman philosophy paper sensors are blaring full blast throughout when it comes to the ideas they're writing about. Suffice to say this system of ethics leaves more than a little to be desired, regardless of potential for storytelling. See, evil can't be defeated because if good wins then...? Well, uhm. We'll get there when we get there.
The different groups of gods then favored their own special races: the good gods favored the Elves, because
as we all know
elves are just plain better than you. They live longer, have awesome magical powers, and are highly resistant to change. The neutral gods favored the humans, which embody free will with their shorter life spans (making life precious) and their limitless ambition. "Thus, men give the world motion." The evil gods favored the ogres, who were initially the most beautiful creatures in existence before their hungers devoured them. They are selfish and cruel, and delight in inflicting pain.
The High God then created animals, who are a balance of all three alignments. Dragons rule them. The animals are free to chose which side the back.
The book then contradicts itself in literally the next paragraph, saying that the animals are most favored by the neutral gods
Finally, there are the spirits called the Maran,
the Player Characters
those with freewill and who are the engines of change and dynamism in the universe. These men are not aligned to any particular pole of the Triangle, which would make them by default favored by the neutral gods as they said humans were above, but then...
Anyways, these spirits inspire action in others, and are thus most prized among the gods.
The whole section on favored races reads like two different drafts that were cut together without proper editing for continuity, to be honest.
Next, there are four laws which must be obeyed at all times:
1. Good Redeems its Own: good seeks to advance its goals through redemption, compassion and justice.
2. Evil Feeds Upon Itself: evil seeks to advance its goals by conquest and subjugation, natural selection style, with the weaker beings losing and dying. Chaotic evil people like raw strength without any moral consequences, and lawful evil people like the "rigid application of a morality of strength."
3. Both Good and Evil Must Exist in Contrast: without the two sides standing in opposition to one another, the world would be either all light or all dark, and there would be no contrast to bring focus or purpose. "Neutral's objective is unity in diversity."
4. The Law of Consequence: If you follow the law, you will be rewarded by the High God. If you break the law, you will be punished by the High God. The High God is a dick, and will sometimes wait years before punishing or rewarding you.
And we reach our first grey box!
A proper DRAGONLANCE® game bases its campaigns and its morals around these principles--promoting the power of truth over injustice, good over evil, and granting good consequences for good acts and bad consequences for bad acts.
Which is really just a reiteration of Law 4 when you get down to it. Is it relevant to running the game or the rules of AD&D? Eh, kinda.
To say that the ethical system leaves a lot to be desired is almost belaboring the point. The obvious Doylian answer is that by making it so evil can never be defeated, there's always another adventure for the PCs to go on and another book to sell you. The Watsonian answer is a little trickier, because the two sides are so blatantly stacked in favor of good that the system has to resort to the "born evil" option to get villains most of the time. What they seemed to be going for was a Moorcock style Law vs. Chaos, where if Law wins the entire universe is calcified into predictable roles and progress and change end, and if Chaos wins the world descends into formless madness and all structure is impossible (a much more interesting debate with good points in favor of each side), but couldn't quite pull the trigger due to their choice of genre tropes and the assumptions of the game at the time. The players don't want long philosophical debates about the nature of morality, they want bad guys they don't need to feel bad about slaughtering. Tacking on a late night freshman philosophy conversation based on the PHB's "True Neutral characters do their best to avoid siding with the force of good or evil, law or chaos. It is their duty to see that all of these forces remain in balanced contention" is usually enough to give the illusion of depth. This whole thing would be better handled in Planescape, but that's a very different game, to say the least. I'd normally give the game a pass on it, because ill-thoughtout morality systems are a dime a dozen in RPGs, but the intense focus on alignment the book has (including actual mechanical penalties) makes it really hard to ignore.
- Heathen clerics and druids can go suck it, or, The game is over at 18th level.
“Yet in the beginning you start with a certain lot in life -- a classification as to who you are and what you may become.”
Original SA post
Part 2 - “Yet in the beginning you start with a certain lot in life -- a classification as to who you are and what you may become.”
Characters in Krynn are caught in a weird form of predestination, one that implies that you still have free will despite being born into a very well defined role in the world. You are free to determine who you are and what you become, despite being saddled with your “Lot in Life” and being (for all intents and purposes) stuck in your character class because this is a 1e supplement.
We are then treated to a healthy dose of pretension:
Some of these character types are universal, and exist not only in Krynn, but also on other worlds far away from the sight and the knowledge of the True Gods. Still others are unique to this world of Krynn and exist nowhere else in the universe.
What are these truly sweet classes that don’t exist anywhere else? We'll get to that in a second...
This entire section is written a little weirdly, with brief descriptions of the classes in white as part of the 2nd person psudo-framing story they began in the last section, and pretty much the same descriptions with mechanical details in a big grey box right afterwards. As you’ll soon find out, there’s a big focus on fucking over characters who are transported to Krynn from elsewhere.
- Don’t worship the True Gods? Fuck you. No powers, no gods, no nothing. “They are powerless and receive no blessings from the gods.” In the Gray Box, we learn that they can adopt the worship of a compatible True God. This may piss off your original deity if you ever get off Krynn, but at that point the DM is fucking with the cleric so badly that s/he might get punched.
- See above. Your nature has no power here, non-Krynn native. Why this has any effect at all, since druids worship nature and not any particular deity, well...
Holy Order of the Stars
- Clerics native to Krynn. There are no fewer than 18 gods scattered throughout the Magic Triangle of Alignment you can choose from.
- Yep, they exist.
- Usually from the North. See your PHB.
- See PHB.
- May be candidates for entry into the Knights of Solamnia, but as the rules for multi-classing into the Knight of Solamnia class are just awful, I’m not sure how this is ever going to be worth it. Non-native Cavaliers can join by starting off by roleplaying, then starting a 2nd XP track and working at their old Cavalier level until they’ve earned enough XP to get their levels of Knight of Solamnia class equal to their previous level of Cavalier. “Note that it is far easier for an experienced knight to gain experience points and go up in levels than it is for those who are truly first level.
- Much like heathen clerics, you lose your powers if you worship a non-Krynn True God. You can enter the Knights of Solamnia class in the same manner as a Cavalier.
Knights of Solamnia
- Hybrid paladin/fighters, who branch off into one of three various orders (Crown, Sword, and Rose). One starts in the Crown, then can join the Sword at 3rd level through roleplaying, and a Sword can join the Rose at 4th through roleplaying. More on them in a bit.
- Those who attempt to use magic “outside of the moderating influence of the Orders of High Sorcery. These are earnestly hunted down by the order to entice them to join or destroy them if they refuse. Renegade wizards have a short life expectancy on Krynn.”
- see above.
Wizards of High Sorcery
- There are three types: White, Black, and Red, which correspond to good, evil, and neutrality respectively. Why neutral is red and not grey, I have no idea. They control all magic on Krynn, and kill anyone who practices it without being one of them.
- Thievery is punished severely on Krynn, unless you happen to be a Kender.
These diminutive people
should be killed on sight
, while embodying the traits and abilities of thieves, call themselves “handlers” since thief implies one who steals for gain. Handlers, on the other hand, do no steal for personal gain, but simply out of an outrageous curiosity about everything and everyone at all times. Kender handlers are just as likely to leave something behind as take something new.
Needless to say, I, like most people, have strong feelings about the Kender, but we won’t discuss them until we hit page 51.
- see PHB.
Don’t see you favorite class listed above? Well...
Characters of other classes revert to their major classes when they enter Krynn, with experience points equal to the mid-point of their current level. Monks, for example, become heathen clerics of equal level. There are no assassin characters in Krynn. They would become thieves.
Who wants to play your favorite class when you could play as knights who are in
? Or magic-users who are divided into
? Or thieves who are
? I bet I could never, ever find characters as unique as that, not anywhere else in the entire universe...
Other Special Limitations
Want to go past 18th level? Too bad! The gods remove you from the world and reassign you to another world. Those who are allowed to remain are
Super Special NPCs like Raistlin
given special permission by the Gods. You can always choose to stick around and forfeit any additional experience and keep playing the character at 18th level if you want to, though.
What’s Your Alignment?
In most AD&D® campaigns, the player chooses the alignment of his PC and then tries to act accordingly. Alignment in Krynn is handled differently. The alignment of a PC is determined by his actions, not the other way around.
In the back, a nice chart is provided for the DM to track the PCs alignments along the scale of Good>Neutral>Evil. You begin at the midpoint of your alignment, and can shift up and down on the scale depending on your actions. If you move enough ticks in any given direction (the good and evil should wrap into one another, if I remember correctly), you enter a “Grey area,” and receive the following penalties:
-1 to all attack rolls
+1 to Armor Class
10% chance of spell failure
20% chance for a cleric, paladin, or spell-casting Knight of Solmnia to not be granted a given spell by his gods when preparing it.
If you move enough to actually shift your into a new alignment, you are placed at the center of that alignment so as to keep you from bouncing back and forth too much. You are also expected to be judged by the strictures of your new alignment, and will be penalized in accordance. Note that this actually makes it harder for you to regain your old alignment, as you've got an entire trek through a different alignment's rules and the accordant penalties to deal with during the transitionary "grey area".
When a change in alignment occurs, do
inform the player that his PC has changed alignment. Wait until he tries to perform an action that depends on his alignment, then tell him it doesn’t work. It’s up to the player to realize what happened and how to fix it.
Clerics who change to an incompatible alignment immediately lose two levels and all spell-casting ability until they find a new god to worship. Wizards likewise lose two levels, and change the color of the robe they wear to suit their new alignment. Knights of Solamnia lose all positions and abilities by falling from grace and are treated as fighters until they redeem themselves.
As you may have guessed, I hate this section, because it embodies pretty much everything that is wrong with alignment as written. Want to play a guy who fights against his natural inclination to do evil? How about a well intentioned extremist who does evil actions for the greater good? How about something simple and cliche, like Han Solo? Well, here’s a host of mechanical penalties and lost levels as your reward for not playing as a straight-jacketed alignment fanatic coupled with passive-aggressive DM’ing. It weirdly rewards you for playing an evil PC, if you know how to game the system, because you can do pretty much whatever you want provided you justify it as being evil in the end or part of some long term plan.
So, to sum us thus far: we’re trapped in a Manichaeistic nightmare of predestination, where only extremism is rewarded by the cruel and distant gods. Somehow evil still exists despite being utterly unappealing and the High God directly rewarding good actions and punishing the bad. We are the playthings of the supreme powers, who cast out any who approach their might, and rule their triangle with an iron fist of conformity.
We’re having fun, right? This is the light and fluffy high fantasy setting, especially when compared to Dark Sun and Ravenloft, right? Guys?
Good thing there’s an entire
devoted to Dragonlance Humor to break all that tension up!
Next - The Knights of Solamnia