Monday, June 29, 2015

The Dragonlance Chronicles would make a great wargame

Lord Soth's Charge by Keith Parkinson

Dungeons & Dragons has its roots in wargaming, even if a lot of its iterations today do not show up with the more obvious influences.  The concept of going into a dungeon to snag some loot while defeating and avoiding enemy monsters has a tactical feel to it, and the tracking of carrying capacity, spell duration measured in rounds and turns puts special emphasis on resource management so that you can't always fight at your best 100% of the time.  Sometimes you have to make do with what you have and retreat from the dungeon to restock.

So it might seem odd at first that I think that the original Dragonlance adventures can lend themselves well to the wargame style.  The setting is notable for beginning a trend towards the Tolkienish Epic Fantasy model in the D&D fandom as well as an overarching series beyond primarily dungeon-delving.  Tracy Hickman's influence of game design sought to weave storylines into traditional gaming experience, and this shows in his work beyond Dragonlance such as the Ravenloft adventure.

After playing many sessions of Fire Emblem Awakening and Valkyria Chronicles (two good strategy-based video game RPGs), I began to see similarities between their styles and that of Dragons of X modules.  Both are known as Tactical RPGs in the video game fandom, a sub-genre which emphasizes battle strategy over exploration elements such as traditional dungeon crawls.  Position and weapon type/range is just as important as stats and level, if not more so, and adventuring parties are less often freelance travelers and more often part of a battlefield regiment or an elite unit.

Examples of wargame elements in Dragonlance

The Death of Sturm by Eric Altinoz of deviantart

Dragonlance traditionally had a very large adventuring party (the Innfellows numbered 8, and additional characters such as Gilthanas and Tika could be added to the roster as the story progressed).  In DL1: Dragons of Despair, the PCs have the opportunity to hire mercenaries to accompany them to the ruins of Xak Tsaroth, including one woman in the 3rd Edition version notable for having an eyepatch which imposed a penalty on sight-based rolls.  Otherwise these sellswords haven't had much of a presence in the rest of the modules.  The additional PC options continue throughout the series, even when the party splits up at the onset of DL6: Dragons of Ice and have three Solamnic Knights accompanying their travels.

Many of the modules' most climactic parts revolve around grand battles where the PCs' actions can make a difference.  In DL3: Dragons of Hope, the fortress of Pax Tharkas is assaulted and the PCs escape with a large gathering of freed slaves.  Hearing of potential safety in the dwarven kingdom of Thorbadin to the south, the refugees embark southward, ahead of the Dragonarmies giving chase.  Shelter and sustenance are important factors, and the discovery of safe passages, good hunting ground, and successful skirmishes can contribute to the refugees' overall goodwill and surviving numbers.

Another climactic aspect of the adventure path is the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower in DL8: Dragons at War.  This building of a prior, mightier era is a vital strategic location for both the Knights of Solamnia and the Dragonarmies.  In order to secure the area the old tower's foundations must be first cleared of traps and monsters.  Once that is done the facility's defenses can be used in the upcoming battle.  Additionally, the PCs might have in their possession one of the Dragon Orbs, which can be used to draw the Dragonarmies' blue dragon aerial squad into the Tower's literal muder-holes where giant guillotine traps will behead them.  This possibility is one of several scenarios which the PCs can do to turn the scale of battle.

Finally, many encounters in the Chronicles emphasize large numbers of disposable minions to put up against the PCs in addition to the climactic opponents.

It's possible that my perspective on Dragonlance might be generational in the sense of spotting elements common to 80s D&D:  as a twenty-something guy who grew up on 3rd Edition D&D I may look at Dragonlance as wargamey in terms of structure, while the older generation of 80s gamers view it as a shift towards a more narrativist element due to emphasis on an overarching plot and railroading elements.  Still, I believe that Dragonlance's emphasis on themes of war, both as a setting backdrop and a mechanical element in several of its adventures, can more easily lend itself to a D&D wargame in comparison to other settings.