Hot on the success of Keys From the Golden Vault, Wizards of the Coast is back with another campaign setting and module that any gaming group would be happy to tackle. Shadow of the Dragon Queen is set in the world of Dragonlance, which was originally created in 1984 to provide Dungeons and Dragons players a campaign setting filled with massive armies and battles, as well as tactical combat that was sometimes best played out with miniatures on a hex map.
Growing up, Dragonlance was always a mysterious world that the older kids played. Meanwhile, my friends and I adventured through most of the original D&D modules like Palace of the Silver Princess, Keep on the Borderlands, Isle of Dread and many others. We had a perfectly good time with those standalone modules, but also looked jealously at the older kids who were playing Dragonlance and even using miniatures to simulate their battles. We didn’t even learn about campaign settings where characters could go from first level to 12th or so over the course of an adventure until Temple of Elemental Evil was released, so Dragonlance was always a step too far for my young gaming group.
Something bad apparently happened between TSR (who owned the D&D franchise at the time) and the authors of the Dragonlance campaign setting, which is why not too many materials were released for it originally. It kind of fizzled out despite its popularity at the time, and never really got to fully develop like some other campaign worlds. And that is a shame, because D&D has always been a little bit lacking when it comes to miniatures and combat, unlike other systems like Warhammer which are fully built around it.
So, it’s nice to see current owners Wizards of the Coast investing back into Dragonlance with a brand new adventure that comes with lots of extras. It’s all part of Wizard’s winning strategy to support the D&D game system by publishing a bunch of titles so that something among them is going to appeal to just about any group of players. And that variety seems to be serving them well, as D&D is more popular than ever, even making its way back into the movies.
In terms of campaign books, modules and supplements, just over the past year or so we have seen a lighthearted original adventure into the fey realm with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight: A Feywild Adventure campaign, a revamp of the Ravenloft horror setting with Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and adventures in deep space and other planes with the remade Spelljammer: Adventures in Space campaign setting and its three-book set of associated materials and adventures. Meanwhile, Keys from the Golden Vault was basically a collection of heist missions that could be dropped into almost any campaign setting or world. That is such a varied list, that just about every group of players can find something that they like.
Enter, Shadow of the Dragon Queen, which is unlike any of the aforementioned titles. Set in the Dragonlance campaign setting, the adventure is heavy on combat, although without sacrificing the story. In terms of combat, there is even an optional Warriors of Krynn board game that can be used to play out all of the battles found in the main adventure using miniatures. It’s sold separately, and will be reviewed in GiN at a later date, so keep an eye out for that.
For the module itself, Shadow of the Dragon Queen is sufficiently epic to justify using the Dragonlance campaign setting, and sees the Dragon Armies marching to war against the peaceful countries of the world of Krynn. The module does a great job of starting out both small and slowly, with characters just beginning their adventuring careers at level one, and then suddenly getting swept up in world-changing events. Players start at first level and over the course of the long campaign end up at level 12, assuming they survive. And instead of counting experience points, the module instead tells dungeon masters when characters level, which normally happens at the end of a chapter or after a major event occurs in the game.
In addition to normal combats like you would find in almost any D&D module, Shadow of the Dragon Queen also has several key tactical battles. Each of them is set up almost like an arena from a video game where characters can’t run beyond the borders of a small map, which is sealed by the “fog of war” and lots of other things, like massive armies clashing all around. Characters who try to leave the map end up getting attacked, turned around and put back into the scenario proper. But those tactical encounters are also very clever, because the efforts of the characters in those small skirmishes almost always have a huge effect on the battle as a whole. In this way, even a small group of characters has a chance to decide the fate of their world.
The battles are not overly complex, and easy enough for DMs to run the normal way using just verbal descriptions, or with a copy of the included map from the module for visual reference, or maybe by drawing the encounter by hand on a hex map. Here is also where the Warriors of Krynn board game comes into play too, because all of those special scenarios are highly detailed within that supplemental collection if DMs want to heavily invest in this campaign.
In addition to a fascinating story told chapter by chapter, Shadow of the Dragon Queen also introduces a new playable race, the Kenders, which are kind of a jovial version of Tolkien’s hobbits. There is also a new class that uses phases of the moon for sorcery spells, nine new feats and two additional player backgrounds. There are also a few new magic items, including some made with a heavy dose of gnomish craziness, and 28 new monsters including a whole host of draconian fiends to face off against from the Dragon Army.
My test group had a great time with Shadow of the Dragon Queen. Many players in that group had not experienced RPGs with a high level of tactical combat before. Most enjoyed the experience and said they wanted to bring that kind of tactical fighting over to future games as well. We also used the optional board game and will be reporting on that later, but in general, Shadow of the Dragon Queen is a darn good module that is packed with new content and a satisfying story that ramps up from humble beginnings to a world-changing finish. It’s perfectly playable on its own without the board game, and can provide many amazing gaming sessions for dungeon masters to serve up to their players, especially for groups that enjoy a healthy dose of combat amid their role-playing.