Shadow of the Dragon Queen and the Shadow of Canon

9780786968282This is going to be a sidebar to the overall discussion about Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen. I had some thoughts on how to flavor some of the encounters and campaign elements to be more specifically Dragonlance feeling, but this time around, I wanted to touch on where “canon” diverges in the adventure, and where it “kind of” diverges.

Heavy Spoilers for Shadow of the Dragon Queen

Canon Cuts Both Ways

To be clear, “canon” is always a dodgy term. Even within the Dragonlance fiction, there are some novels or short stories that have been referred to as “Kender Tales,” essentially to denote that the story may be told by people in some places, but the story isn’t actually true or binding to other elements of the story.

Even limiting “canon” to what was written by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis can be tricky. Even before the current trilogy of books that are in production, there have been numerous in-universe changes to the timeline, and multiple instances where we have seen one generally idyllic future that has been constantly diverted into other darker futures.

On top of all of that some Hickman and Weis books have referred to other authors’ Dragonlance books, Hickman and Weis resisted the “canon” status of Lord Soth being pulled into Ravenloft, and once in a while, they have contradicted their own stories (for example, who was at Tanis and Laurana’s wedding and what happened there).

I also wanted to point out that when it comes to RPG products, there have been a lot of issues with conflicting timelines and events. None of this is to point fingers, it’s to say that “canon” can be a slippery slope.

Fuzzy Canon

So, what are the potential “canon” issues in Shadow of the Dragon Queen? I’m going to divide these into borderline issues and conflicts. Let’s start with those borderline issues:

  • Potential divine magic appears before Goldmoon’s recovery of the Disks of Mishakal
  • Dragons appeared in Krynn’s history after they were banished and before the War of the Lance
  • Recovering a Dragonlance before the Dragonlance and their creation method was rediscovered

One of the reasons I’m going to call all of these “borderline” issues is that plenty of game material, short stories, novels, and comics have done the above long before this adventure. I think it’s worth looking at what story purposes all of those events serve, both in the original story and in this adventure, before getting too upset about them.

Goldmoon’s discovery of the Disks a Mishakal serves as the event where the Gods of Good were ready to reveal their presence to the world, and the information in the Disks is what helped Elistan proselytize the Gods of Light to win new followers. The PCs in this adventure aren’t really put in a position of proselytizing and making new clerics or divine casters.

There have definitely been instances where dragons were mentioned after the banishment. The chromatic dragons were banished, but the metallic dragons agreed to withdraw from the world, which has been shown in many cases to mean “go somewhere in the world where they won’t be affecting the course of history.” It actually helps to cement how momentous an event the confrontation at the City of Lost names was to underscore that a gold dragon could have potentially upset the agreement between the gods regarding the withdrawal of the metallic dragons.

The Dragonlance in question is a single Dragonlance, and becomes a singular object for solving the problems presented in the adventure. Nobody learns where a cache of them exists, and nobody learns how to make them. Also, there is a precedence for isolated individuals finding single lances in other forms of fiction over the years.

If all of these things are really big problems for your enjoyment of the adventure, consider the following:

  • Characters to whom the gods have revealed themselves can easily be told that they have been given powers to accomplish a task, and that spreading the word isn’t part of their mission
  • As I mentioned above, playing up how dangerous it was that a dragon was willing to break the pact 300+ years ago actually helps underscore the drama of the situation portrayed in the adventure
  • It’s actually really easy for someone, possibly Fizban, to come along at the end of the adventure to collect the Dragonlance until the rest of the world is “ready” for it to be revealed

All of that said, I would also point out that Krynn isn’t a world where knowledge travels fast. Magic isn’t as ubiquitous as it is in Eberron, or even the Forgotten Realms. Some people might tell stories about the heroes that fought a Dragon Highmaster with a Dragonlance, but by the time that story really picks up speed, there are likely to be new Dragonlances being forged by Theros Ironfield.

Hairy Canon

Now, let’s look at the bigger issues, which I would posit may not be quite as big as they seem at first, either:

  • The history of the City of Lost names doesn’t line up with how it has appeared in other products
  • The history of how the Flying Citadels came into being doesn’t match what is presented in the adventure
  • The city of Kalaman was under Blue Dragonarmy control towards the end of the War of the Lance, and was liberated by Laurana’s push into this region of Solamnia

WotL CoverI have no idea when the City of Lost Names was first detailed. I know when I was running campaigns in Dragonlance in the AD&D 2e days, I couldn’t find any information on it other than it being a ruin with a snazzy name. For what it’s worth, for anyone that is a big fan of the novels, none of the big series reference the ruin or it’s history, and I believe most of it’s history exists as a framing device for a series of short stories.

The City of Lost Names, as it appears in the 3.5 War of the Lance sourcebook, was a city built in the Age of Dreams by people harnessing the magic of the Graygem, which contains the essence of Chaos. The Gods of Magic thought this was kind of cool, until the people in the city made the Anvil of Time, and the Gods decided that time travel is a pain in the ass. Enter divine curse, temple containing the Anvil of Time buried under the sand, city becomes a ruin, parts of it float. None of this interacts with the much more recent history of Istar.

I’m going to argue all of this actually works pretty well with what is presented, if you layer what is presented in the adventure on top of what was already said about the city. Trying to revive a city that was cursed by the Gods of Magic is definitely a Kingpriest thing to do, and dragons lairing in a ruin that was cursed by the gods for having forbidden magic is kind of logical for creatures withdrawn from the world. Even the Spawning Shard and the presence of Slaad in the ruins make sense for the history with the Graygem and Chaos.

In the adventure, it sounds like the Bastion of Takhisis was a maintained temple at the time of the Cataclysm, but there is no way that the Kingpriest would have left that stand, Balance be damned, in a city being restored to show the glory of Istar. However, if the Bastion of Takhisis is a relic of an ancient past, it still works, it just means the structure is old enough to date back to the Age of Dreams.

It’s also strange to have Wizards of High Sorcery working with the Kingpriest on anything, especially a Red Robe, however, if you frame this as Fistandantalus convincing the Kingpriest that the arcanists are needed to help remove the curse placed by the Gods of Magic on the site, this works. One of the oddities of the Kingpriest was that the only wizard he tended to listen to was Fistandantalus, and Fistandantalus would totally have his fellow wizards looking for artifacts to remove from the city while “removing the curse.”

The creation of the flying citadels is pretty easy to reconcile as well. In the established lore, they were in the planning stage for two years, and it took a Black Robe wizard and a cleric of Takhisis six months to work the rituals to finally get them off the ground. We see the cleric of Takhisis and the Black-Robed wizard in this adventure, and I think it’s pretty easy to assume that the “breakthrough” that allowed them to move from the planning stage to production was being able to use parts of the city as the foundations of the citadels.

Finally, there is the matter of the Blue Dragonarmy’s occupation of Kalaman. I don’t really think this is a canon issue so much as it’s a bit of a bummer to realize that after keeping Kalaman out of the hands of the Red Dragonarmy, Kitiara comes along and takes the city a few months later. But that’s foreshadowed with the comments by the Dragonhighmaster and the letter at the end of the adventure.

What Did We Accomplish?

The efforts of the PCs aren’t futile, because it keeps any of the Dragonarmies from having a firm hold on this part of Solamnia, it pushes back the use of the flying fortresses by months, and probably most of all, prevents the Dragonarmies from having a ready source of undead dragons to support their efforts. It also means that Kitiara has to divert her efforts to recruit Soth back to the cause after his defeat.

Also, absolutes are a pain in the rear end, and if you ever read an individual character stating an absolute in the story, remember that is a character, in a story, stating an absolute that they believe to be true from their point of view.

Ultimately, I think it’s more important that the adventure works as an adventure, and that it holds up when measured against the feel of the setting as presented in the media where it is most likely to be encountered. If you read the Dragonlance Chronicles, the adventure slots into the assumptions of those books really well. It’s only the extended backstory where things start to get sticky.

The important part of the adventure is for the PCs to be heroes, to accomplish clearly important goals, and for the setting to feel like the established feel of the setting, and when it comes to all of those benchmarks, I think it succeeds.