Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Retrospective: Dragons of Glory

My overall opinion of Dragonlance is, I think, well known and, in the thirteen (!) years since I first publicly expressed it, I haven't much mellowed. I remain convinced that, while Dragonlance may well have "saved" Dungeons & Dragons in some sense, the hobby is still paying the price of that salvation nearly four decades later. This does not mean, however, that the entire Dragonlance project was wholly devoid of worth. Indeed, in the course of changing the course of D&D and, by extension, the entire hobby, a number of genuinely interesting things were produced.

A case in point is 1985's Dragons of Glory, written by Douglas Niles and Tracy Hickman (though I suspect that it was Niles who was responsible for the bulk of the product). Ostensibly the eleventh module in the original Dragonlance series, Dragons of Glory is, in fact, not an adventure scenario at all but rather a stand-alone wargame set in the world of Krynn, complete with rules, maps, and hundreds of cardboard counters.

I dutifully purchased module DL11 upon its release, as I had all the previous modules in the series. As I've explained before, I was never a fan of Krynn as a setting or even of the specifics of Dragonlance – particularly its pre-generated characters – but I was quite taken with the idea of a lengthy series of connected scenarios that chronicled a war against a high fantasy Dark Lord. Thus, I cannibalized the DL modules to use in a campaign setting of my own devising (about which the less said the better) and rarely regretted that decision. Dragons of Glory was one such occasion. 

You see, the module presented a strategic-level simulation of the War of the Lance, with rules for movement, combat, and reinforcements, among other such details. The rules are simple, probably laughably so for anyone with much experience in the hobby of hex-and-chit wargaming. Not having such experience myself, I wasn't at all bothered by this. In fact, I considered it something of a plus, since, as a neophyte, I wasn't in a position to handle a more sophisticated wargame. 

Dragons of Glory was supposed to serve two purposes. As already mentioned, it was intended as a stand-alone wargame that could be played again and again, much in the way one might play Third Reich or Kingmaker. More interesting is the second purpose of the game: integrating the wargame with the module series. The idea here is that the referee (and another player) could take note of their play of the wargame and then use it to influence the play of the module-based campaign. For example, if a battle takes place in the wargame in a particular place, when the player characters make their way through that same place, the referee could use that fact to affect what those characters see and encounter there. Now, to be clear, there are no actual rules to govern this. Even the guidelines offered amount to little more than vague advice, but I cannot tell you how much the idea of using the results of a wargame to affect the play of a RPG inspired me at the time.

There's another unspoken angle here, namely that Dragons of Glory points the way – tentatively, to be sure – toward "alternate universe" versions of Krynn, where things don't necessarily play out exactly the way the adventure modules intend them to. That's always been one of my biggest beefs with the whole Dragonlance project: its expectation that certain events would happen in certain ways and that certain characters would be involved in them. I hated this approach then and I hate it even more now. If the project had been more flexible in allowing events to unfold differently in each campaign, I might have fewer objections. As it is, Dragonlance is a vast railroad with a pre-determined beginning, middle, and end. 

Dragons of Glory hints at the possibility of other approaches and that's probably why I still retain a certain fondness for it, despite its design shortcomings. DL11 is probably the first and only time that a module in this series toys with the idea of the War of the Lance having different trajectories than those presented in official TSR products, trajectories unique to each campaign. Again, I feel I should reiterate that Dragons of Glory itself does little to support this idea and I am likely being more charitable toward it than it deserves. Even so, I was so positively impacted by what little it does offer that I felt it deserved a second look. 


  1. “…a strategic-level simulation of the War of the Lance…” I never was attracted to Dragonlance, but I wish I had known about this one.

  2. I played in some of the DL modules with a group I was in, and this sounds neat, but a game where this would work better for me is Traveller's Fifth Frontier War.

    1. Fifth Frontier War includes rather better advice on how to integrate it with a Traveller campaign, as well.

  3. Pretty original idea. I would have (and do) love the idea of breaking out to wargame some big battles and then having those outcomes have major effects on the world. It sounds loosy goosy enough to just add in roleplaying elements to the battles or on the world as you see fit.

    There's probably a fantastic Dragonlance campaign to be created just using locations & NPC's from the modules, a few flowcharts or orders/responses from opponents depending on what happens and one or two new twists on the plot (switch out lances or their location, or the staff or locations of xyz/motivations of X NPC...)

  4. Boy, I remember playing the heck out of this one. My favorite DL module when I was a kid.

  5. I recall playing this once when it first came out, and my friend clobbered me. I was so frustrated I never played again.
    I agree with your approach to the various modules, it had some great material to plunder but not something I wanted to play through as intended.
    As an aside, how else could you handle a series of interconnected modules? It seems without a narrative (railroad) it would quickly explode into exponential directions that the authors could not anticipate.