Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Review

Posted by Vicki Bell on

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Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen Book Review

Triumphant Reboot or Shameless Cash Grab?

We’re finally returning to Dragonlance and the world of Krynn in 5th edition DnD with the release of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen. The red dragon army is on the march and the undead legend Lord Soth seeks something sinister amidst long forgotten Istarran ruins. The players must help defend Solamnia, rally their forces, and foil Lord Soth’s efforts to turn the tide of war. But is this adventure path worth playing? Claim your Dragonlance and face the oncoming hordes as we go through everything you need to know. 

Dragon Lance Shadow of the Dragon Queen Book Review

 

What’s Dragonlance?

Dragonlance is a beloved setting that dates all the way back to the 1st edition of D&D with countless books across D&D’s entire history. It’s also a full-fledged fantasy world with novels, video games, and a dedicated fanbase.

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So full disclosure, though I’ve been DMing and playing D&D for over a decade and I’ve heard tons of wonderful things about Dragonlance I’ve never experienced the setting for a proper game before. But that does mean I’m coming into Dragonlance without any nostalgia glasses and with a fresh-faced perspective.


 

After reading up on everything  in the Dragonlance setting I can tell you the lore here is deep. At a surface level it seems like a generic fantasy world but that’s only because so many settings stole directly from it. Dragonlance is the granddaddy, the originator, the source of many tropes we’ve come to think of as standard fantasy. I saw a ton of similarities in Matt Mercer’s setting with its cataclysm, multiple magical moons, and even some of the naming conventions. Legendary authors such as Tracy Hickman, Margaret Weis wrote books about charactes such as Rastilin and the kender Tasslehoff burrfoot. 


 

There’s a Board Game?

Wizards of the Coast did something very strange with this book, they released a companion board game alongside it meant to be played in tandem with the adventure path. Before anyone freaks out you don’t need this board game to play the adventure and I’m not quite sure I’d even recommend doing so, but the product is there.


 

Throughout Shadow of the Dragon Queen there are 12 scenarios where armies clash, and you have the option to resolve those scenarios “normally” using the encounters found within the book or you can use the Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn board game instead. The board game is designed specifically for Shadow of the Dragon Queen, and it has unique setups for each of the warfare scenarios found in the adventure path. You don’t control the armies in this board game, but instead control your hero and choose how they want to try and effect the course of the battle through rallying troops, fighting alongside them, or performing side missions. You can essentially think of the board game as an “auto-battler” game where the armies will fight regardless of what you do, but your actions can help potentially turn the tide. A dragonlance campaign



 

What’s in Shadow of the Dragon Queen?

Shadow of the Dragon Queen is first and foremost an adventure path as part of a dragonlance campaign set in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 5e, but we get a few extra goodies here and there. The book is 224 pages in length and seems to be retailing for $49.99 at most places (though you can find some discounts) and is a bit on the short side compared to other releases at that price that are usually closer to 250 pages.


 

It’s worth noting that you can also find it packaged with the Warriors of Krynn companion board game as a “deluxe edition” and that seems to range around $120 to $150 for the book and board game together.


 

We’ll be focusing on the book itself which all told includes:



 

  • Dragonlance Lore
  • 1 New Playable Race
  • 2 New Backgrounds
  • 7 New Feats
  • 1 New Class Archetype
  • 2 New Siege Weapons
  • 4 New Magic Items
  • 22 Monster / NPC Statblocks
  • 6 New Sidekicks
  • The 1st to 10th Level Shadow of the Dragon Queen Adventure Path 


Dragonlance Lore

Speaking as someone who started unfamiliar with Dragonlance lore I felt this section did a great job of giving me the overview of Krynn and its history. This is NOT a setting book though. We get just enough pages worth of lore for the adventure path, but Dragonlance is just too vast and deep to get in fully fleshed out in the space allowed. 


The Kender Race

Kender are (and I’m simplifying here) basically halfway between halflings and gnomes. Little mischievous folk who are excellent at stealing things and taunting people. Apparently in the past players have used the stealing habits to justify toxic player behavior so they’ve got a really bad reputation in some circles. This newest iteration of their lore downplays their sticky fingers and emphasizes their curious nature instead.


 

2 New Backgrounds

Dragonlance gives us two new setting specific backgrounds, Knight of Solamnia and Mage of High Sorcery. These remind me a lot of the Strixhaven backgrounds in that they tie the player to the setting and also include a bonus feat. These however are just generic enough to include in other campaigns as a “power boost” option but are strictly stronger than existing backgrounds. 


 

7 New Feats

Shadow of the Dragon Queen is a tough campaign, and it sets you up with some free bonus feats to balance it out. For the campaign you’re intended to take the skilled or tough feat at 1st level as a bonus feat, and one of 11 feats as another bonus feat at 4th level. 7 of those options are completely new feats, most of which involve joining a specific knightly order or donning robes of a magical order. I’m a fan of these. They conveniently worked joining those orders into the plot at about 4th level, joining the mechanics neatly with the plot. 


 

Lunar Sorcerer Archetype

This new archetype is one of the highlights of the book for me. It cleverly gives you different spells and powers to work with depending on the phase of the moon, and eventually lets you control your “phase” giving you almost 3 different archetypes in one that you can shift between.


 

2 New Siege Weapons

We get a fire-breathing dragon wagon in the Boilerdrak, and the person catapulting Gnomeflinger. Notable just because siege weapons are so incredibly rare, they’re nice additions to the 5e library. I know I’ll definitely be launching my players with a Gnomeflinger in some of my upcoming home games.


 

4 New Magic Items

We get the titular Dragonlances, two more rather interesting items, and a story specific item that’ll come into play in the final chapters. Great utility on these, but fairly sparse for a full campaign.


 

22 Monster / NPC Statblocks

Dragons, dragons and more dragons! Well, draconians anyway. We get the formidable death dragons alongside the monstrous dragonborn-ish draconians, and the rideable dragonnels. There’s nothing too surprising here but dragons are a common enough theme that I suspect you’ll find good use of them in other campaigns as well.


 

6 New Sidekicks

A pleasant return to an underused mechanic, we get 6 fully fleshed out sidekick characters with unique sidekick stats and progression tables. Even outside of the adventure path these are wonderful additions to your own campaign with the flavorful character work already done for you. 


Shadow of the Dragon Queen Adventure Path

So, enough mucking about, is how’s the adventure? Well, it starts off quite well with some session zero preludes for each player helping to tie the players into the main plot. These are absolutely wonderful, and I hope more WotC adventures use them, they’re non-combat or very combat light, but they force the players to ask some vital character building questions and ground the players in the plot before it starts in full.


 

The group is mourning a fallen friend and meet at their funeral, and their commiserations are interrupted by the encroaching red dragon army which forces the party to band together and take part in the larger conflict. This is a wartime campaign. The players are heroes, but they’re part of a much larger conflict. This is where the board game comes in and I’ll admit to only having reviews and videos to go off (I bought a digital copy of the book and not the board game) but the board game seems… Iffy. 


 

The idea is that instead of resolving large-scale battles through role play in D&D, you instead shift over to the board game to determine the outcome of the battles. To the board game’s credit, it still puts you in the role of heroes (based on the 5e classes) and the game seems to manage the D&D feel. Paladins and bards can inspire the troops, rogues can go try to pick off the enemy characters, clerics can heal the fallen. But I have a hard time imagining shifting my playgroup out of their role play and sitting for a board game for 45 minutes in the middle of our D&D session.


 

Besides that, many board game reviewers have pointed out Warriors of Krynn’s poor-quality tokens, cards, and figures. The game itself seems pretty solid but it seems like they cheeped out a bit on production. The hero figures were meant to have a wash that makes their details pop but in most of the kits I’ve seen they just look dirty, with the wash still smudged on all the raised surfaces rather than nicely settled in the recesses.


 

But back to the adventure path. Players are in the middle of a continent spanning war and are working directly with an army. This is NOT a sandbox, and the adventure is fairly linear. I will say it does a great job of allowing for different outcomes and player decisions for each quest, but the overarching story beats and progress are locked in.


 

In the 2nd half we get a proper exploration section which I’m excited for, and depending on how earlier military actions go, the party will likely be exploring with an entire army which is definitely a departure from the regular roughing it most adventurers are used to. I would’ve liked to see a bit more interconnectivity between the exploration encounters but it’s still a strong section.


 

The many NPCs the players encounter are varied and fun. I particularly loved the bored kender vampire in the final chapters and the jerk noble that acts as an obstacle early on. Combats rely a bit on “fight a bunch of draconians” but it’s not repetitive. If fighting off dragon riders sounds exciting to your players, you should have plenty of combat to appease your fighty players and enough character intrigue to appease your role players.


 

What’s Good About Shadow of the Dragon Queen? 

New character options, a solid campaign, and a callback to a beloved setting. I’m completely immune to the nostalgia for Dragonlance (since I never played in it) but I’ll say as a newbie I’m still intrigued. At the absolute least there’s plenty here to steal and repurpose for my own campaigns and at most this might well be the game I DM after my current game finishes up. The intro preludes are smooth, and it just does a lot of things right that add up to a solid campaign start to finish.


 

What’s Bad About Shadow of the Dragon Queen?  

This is a linear war campaign and players who were hoping to explore Krynn or use this as a setting book will be sorely disappointed. There’s the one way forward and the other paths are blocked by rampaging dragon armies. Linear doesn’t equal bad though, and this railroad has a lot of exciting stops along the way.


 

Also, just as a nitpick, aren’t you supposed to ride dragons in Dragonlance? I combed through this book and found 0 opportunities for the players to ride some dragons. Perhaps I missed it, but it just seems odd to forego what I thought was a primary aspect of the setting.


 

Shadow of the Dragon Queen Conclusions

If I’m interested in this setting without the nostalgia glasses, I can only imagine how exciting this will be for people who love Dragonlance. I’m not knowledgeable enough on the original source material to know if this book keeps true to it but it seems like a deep world with tons to explore.

But this isn’t a campaign setting, this is an adventure path.


 

The conclusion I keep landing on is that this adventure is solid and fun, but a bit bland. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this adventure path, but for me there’s not a whole lot that excites me about it either.


 

It seems like the selling points here are twofold: Dragonlance nostalgia, and the tie-in board game. I’ve got no nostalgia so what I see is a well-crafted war campaign that’s just a bit on the generic side. As for the board game, it’s not bad exactly, but it doesn’t work for me as a selling point. My group in particular plays online and even for an in-person session I’d have a hard time stopping a campaign to play a board game in the middle of it. Thankfully you don’t have to use the board game at all. Each of the sections that the board game “replaces” are still well fleshed out sections of the campaign and I’d almost feel a bit cheated if they were removed for a board game.


 

If you love Dragonlance or are just looking for a solid linear campaign, this is a great book. I’d probably give the board game a pass and just buy the book though. As a 1st to 10th level campaign, I was hard pressed to find a low point. Board game notwithstanding, this is a well-written adventure from start to finish and I think your playgroup will have a blast rallying the troops against the red dragon army across the lands of Krynn. 

 

Final Score: 8 out of 10 

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