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I knew next to nothing of the Forgotten Realms when I began playing D&D, outside of playing video games such as Neverwinter Nights and Baldur’s Gate.
But I did know Dragonlance.
If The Hobbit was my gateway drug, then Dragonlance was pure fantasy juice shoved right into my veins.
I was late to the party, not discovering the series until the mid to late 90s — a solid decade after the original trilogy was published. But I devoured as many book as I could get my hands on. The War of the Lance. The Chaos War. The Fifth Age. The Minotaur Wars. Dhamon Grimwulf. Kang’s Regiment. Raistlin fucking Majere.
Then I got older, branched out to other worlds and authors, and suddenly I haven’t read a Dragonlance book in 15 years. It doesn’t help that they stopped publishing them for nearly a decade.
But Dragonlance didn’t die, it was merely resting. Now we have a new published novel by the OG scribes themselves, and an official D&D 5e campaign.
I’m pleased to report that Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen is pretty damn good, and easily one of the best 5e campaign books I’ve read.
The following is included in the Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen bundle on Roll20 ($29.99):
- Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Module
- Level 1-11 campaign, seven chapters.
- Seven regional maps
- 19 5-ft scale battle maps (with dynamic lighting)
- Over 70 NPC character sheets and tokens (+30 named NPC tokens)
- Over 25 player art handouts (not including handouts of all the monsters and NPCs)
- Over 50 magic item handouts (30 with art)
- Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Compendium
- One new race: Kender
- One new subclass (Lunar Sorcerer)
- Two new backgrounds with bonus feats
- Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Art Pack
- Over 200 tokens and handouts
- Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Module
Shadow of the Dragon Queen is a campaign book first, and a sourcebook second, if it all. If you were hoping to find a wonderful guide to Ansalon to launch your own adventures, you’re going to come away disappointed (I recommend checking out third party products, such as the Dragonlance Companion on the DMs Guild).
The War Comes to Krynn introduction details the history of the world, which features evil empires, an epic cataclysm, and the disappearance of the gods, in only a couple pages. Half the section is dedicated to Krynn’s pantheon, even though the gods haven’t been around in centuries and only just starting to reappear.
Unfortunately for everyone, Takhisis, the evil goddess of dragons (AKA Tiamat in the Forgotten Realms), gets the jump on them all, and her dragon armies have begun sweeping across the continent, conquering in her name.
The first chapter provides some context to Krynn’s take on classic fantasy races, such as dwarves (xenophobic and super reclusive!), elves (xenophobic but less reclusive), and the one new official race option, kender (elvish-looking halflings).
The chapter also adds a single new subclass, Lunar Sorcerery, a fantastic subclass for the Sorcerer that reflects the three moons of Krynn, with the ability to swap spells and abilities after each rest.
But the most interesting new addition are two new backgrounds that tie heavily into the world of Dragonlance: Knight of Solamnia and Mage of High Sorcery.
Both backgrounds include their own unique story progression throughout the campaign and add bonus feats as you advance, making them way better and more interesting than any other background, to the point where I wish we had gotten at least two more (for divine spellcasters and less knightly martial characters).
The main adventure doesn’t kick off until chapter three, with chapter two providing awesome miniature solo-ventures for 1st level characters. These extended scenes allow a PC (or more) to interact with events leading up to the adventure, whether it’s explaining why their cleric has powers (a supernatural meeting with their deity!) or a dangerous encounter with some draconians. It’s a fantastic way to start, and all D&D adventures should take advantage of a similar PC-focused beginning.
Chapter three brings our wayward player characters together after the death of a mutual friend, as they gather in a small town in northern Solamnia for his funeral. The festivities lead to a surprise attack on the town by the shocking appearance of the Red Dragon Army. By the end of the chapter, the party has to flee the burning town and escape to the nearby city of Kalaman, where they learn the extent and horrors of the coming war.
Most battles take place in the midst of a larger scale war. On the maps this ongoing war is represented by the Fray, a barrier that deals damage if you’re near it, as well as through event tables, such as injured enemies or allies appearing, or volleys of arrows striking the PCs. It’s a clever balance of traditional small-scale battles infused with a bigger setting.
The first two chapters set the stage for the war story very well, but they’re also excessively linear, with the PCs reacting to events rather than making any real choices. The only dungeon crawl occurs late in the 4th chapter, and is more story-focused than anything else — though it does feature the first appearance of Lord Soth, an excellent, Vader-like death knight villain with a tragic backstory like something out of Shakespeare.
In fact, Lord Soth is the rare infamous villain whom the designers actually do right by, unlike so many past villains who only show up at the end, and/or whom the designers had to cheat to allow the PCs to face at all (such as Acererak, Iymrith, or the Demogorgon).
Chapter five (and the rest of the campaign) is what really sells me on this adventure, opening things up at just the right time.
The PCs, backed by the army of Kalaman, follow Lord Soth and his army north into the nearby Northern Wastes. What follows is a well-designed hex crawl populated by over ten different adventure sites. Each location is smartly linked with other locations, allowing the party to naturally expand their adventuring, such as rescuing a prisoner from Sunward Fortress, learning of his home in Heart’s Hollow, and gaining more adventure locations from that unique cliff-side town.
Almost all of these sites feature full color battle maps, beautifully illustrated by Mike Schley and Jared Blando. This is probably the best map art I’ve seen since Tomb of Annihilation, and with nearly 20 battle maps throughout the campaign (with proper 5-ft square scaling!), it’s a major selling point on Roll20.
The goal in the Northern Wastes is to discover a lost city and discover why the Red Dragon Army wants to get their hands on it, leading to an awesome dungeon crawl and lost city exploration, and ending with a shocking climax as a fortress lifts off the ground as a flying siege weapon (chapter 6).
The final chapter has the PCs racing to help defend Kalaman against the dragon army backed by a flying fortress, before infiltrating the fortress to bring it down.
Did I mention it’s piloted by Lord Soth himself, and that the entire campaign ends with no fewer than three epic boss fights? Hell yeah!
Limiting the campaign to a relatively small slice of the world is a bummer. On the other hand, the smaller setting provides a tighter narrative experience, and much stronger ties thanks to recurring NPC allies and villains. Thanks to the stellar map and token art, the adventure looks absolutely stellar on Roll20.
Shadow of the Dragon Queen does exactly what I wanted from a war-based fantasy adventure — draw inspiration from Raiders of the Lost Ark! The villainous army is searching for an ancient weapon to use in the war, while our heroes try to stop them. They’re not going to defeat the entire army, nor stop the war, but they can deal a serious blow to the Dragon Army, and end with an amazingly climactic battle at the end.
I’m happy that my nostalgic fantasy setting was given such a fantastic adventure, and Shadow of the Dragon Queen has rocketed to the top of my short list of 5e campaigns to run.
- Several opening solo-ventures that tie the PCs into the world.
- New backgrounds are woven into the story, and reward new feats.
- Draconians are awesome, and big bad Lord Soth features prominently in the story.
- Recurring NPC allies and rivals provide meaningful attachments to the story.
- Nearly 20 gorgeous battle maps (all with 5-ft squares!)
- Over 200 tokens taken from every piece of art in the book.
- First few chapters (levels 1-4) are excessively linear, and lack dungeon crawling.
- The campaign only covers level 1-11, and limited to a relatively tiny portion of Ansalon.
The Verdict: While it fails at being a proper sourcebook for Krynn, Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen more than makes up for it with its tightly compelling, war-torn story, well-conceived NPCs and villains, and wonderful balance of combat, exploration, and role-playing, creating one of the best adventures for D&D 5e.
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