Saturday, April 20, 2024

‘Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen’ Finally Makes A War Campaign That Works

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The War Campaign. Perhaps the ultimate test for a DM in both planning and execution. Far removed from the core D&D experience of the dungeon crawl, it evokes the games Chainmail origins in its need for large battlefields, mass movements of soldiers, and the proper planning to make a party of four or five heroes seem important in a battle of thousands. It’s hard for many DM’s to pull it off, and usually a war is only used as a setpiece, a looming danger that PC’s might move around or work to prevent. But Shadow of the Dragon Queen, 5E’s return to the classic Dragonlance setting, instead puts war right at the forefront of the entire journey.

Warning: Review Contains Spoilers For Shadow Of The Dragon Queen campaign

Entering Krynn

Dragonlance Shadow of the Dragon Queen war art

The narrow focus of Shadow of the Dragon Queen means this isn’t a book for people who want to return to the Dragonlance sandbox the way that, say, the Spelljammer books were. Instead, its focused on the important factions and characters surrounding the War of the Lance and its setting of Ansalon. While the setting is overall more high fantasy than The Forgotten Realms, it has some key differences. For one, it has far fewer races milling around compared to other settings. There’s humans (several varieties in fact), dwarves (hill and mountain), elves (sea, wood, and high, though it’s complicated), and Gnomes. This book also introduces the Kender, basically the setting’s version of Halflings with a distinctive blend of fearlessness and curiosity.

Kender from Dragonlance Shadow of the Dragon Queen
The Kender are gnomes that long ago were blessed by the gods with supernatural curiosity and foolhardiness

There’s two big organizations that characters have the option of joining and making a key part of their character: The Mages of High Sorcery and the Knights of Solamnia. Each have a succession of feats you can take to reflect your movement through the organization, with the Knights having different chivalrous orders to join
(each with a virtue they champion) and the Mages having three orders one can join based on your alignment. These options are distinct to Dragonlance but are pretty powerful, and there are many opportunities to benefit from them in the campaign.

The only big new character option added by Shadow of the Dragon Queen is the Lunar Sorcery subclass. This class gains power from the different phases of the moon that you channel, which can change after long rests. The Full Moon boosts your Abjuration and Divination spells while focusing on the radiant, healing qualities of moonlight. The New Moon focuses on stealth and darkness, the more nefarious things a dark moon can shadow. It boosts your Necromancy and Evocation spells. The Crescent Moon focuses on the ever changing moon, in trickery and and manipulation, and it boosts your transmutation and divination. It’s a powerful new option for sorcerers in any setting, letting you control the battlefield in some really neat ways.

War? What Is It Good For?

Refugees from Vogler escape the destruction wrought by the Red Dragon Army
Refugees from Vogler escape the destruction wrought by the Red Dragon Army

You’re not going to find too much innovation in the main campaign of Shadow of the Dragon Queen. There’s an evil army led by an evil overload, a doomed starting town PC’s will get to know just well enough to make it hurt when it blows up, and a quest to sneak behind enemy lines and knock out their superweapon before things get too bad. But while the outline is standard, there’s plenty to sink your teeth into when it comes to the running of this campaign.

The campaign spans the breadth of the continent, from the idyllic fishing village of Vogler to the Northern Wastes to the mysterious City of Lost Names. The campaign takes a good look at the effect a giant war like this has on the very landscape of the continent. There’s a gloom that slowly overtakes the world as you move through it until your final faceoff with Lord Soth feels more desperate than ever. This is a new apocalypse and only the heroes can stop it.

Kansaldi on a dragon
Kansaldi on his dragon devastates the world.

A strong cast of supporting characters helps the danger of the Red Dragon Army feel real, and there’s flexibility for DM’s to make the stakes as high as they want. Not everyone you meet is going to survive to the end of things. War is brutal and D&D doesn’t want you to forget that even as you and your group overcome obstacles. But you’ll also remember quirky inventor Rookledust and bumbling wannabe knight Darrett, and DM’s have the chance to really create investment in the war.

Your main enemy is not the titular Dragon Queen, who in other worlds is Tiamat, but instead the iconic Dragonlance villain Lord Soth. As you battle through armies of Draconians and other monsters, his death knights will dog your trail and his visage will loom large over every encounter. Not to mention the terrifying Death Dragons added in by this book. The final showdown with him is thus incredibly satisfying, especially for longtime Dragonlance fans. He might be the most memorable villain to return to 5e since Strahd.

Soth’s backstory plays a key role in defeating him

Now you might be asking how the actual war part of the game happens. And here’s where I think the adventure shines. The ideal way to play this is, of course, to give Wizards of the Coast more money. Warlords of Krynn is a companion strategy game that essentially lets the players reenact the main battles of the campaign as well as lay out what their characters do during the course of each battle. Throughout the course of the campaign there will be moments that correspond to different scenarios in Warlords that you can act out. In my play with designer Dan Dillon at PAX, I got a great idea of how you can slot in characters. It’s fairly agnostic and has a spot for every class. It’s a fun game on its own, but combining it with the book is a truly unique experience I wouldn’t miss if you can avoid it.

Raise The Banners

Knights of Solamnia muster for battle in Dragonlance shadow of the dragon queen
Knights of Solamnia muster for battle

As I said before, this isn’t an adventure that’s going to turn D&D upside down. But Dragonlance has never been a setting for that sort of thing. It’s a setting that’s about the best of high fantasy. The new class options are meaty and let players immerse themselves in the world quickly, and you’ll find that the story isn’t quite as linear as it might seem. Shadow of the Dragon Queen is a satisfying introduction to that world for players who may be new to it and a triumphant return for longtime fans.

You can pick up Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen from the D&D Shop, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon at an MSRP of $59.95. You can grab the exclusive alt cover bearing the visage of Lord Soth himself only at your FLGS. And if you truly want to immerse yourself in the War of The Lance, you can grab the Deluxe Edition. It contains a special Alt Cover of Shadow of the Dragon Queen, a special DM screen, and a copy of Warlords of Krynn. The Deluxe Edition goes for about $155.

Images via Dungeons & Dragons

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