Sunday, January 6, 2013

What if TSR's Dragonlance...

                    ...Had Done It Like This?

So depending on who you talk to, the Dragonlance saga (the original three novels by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman and the tie-in series of modules by TSR) was the beginning of the end for TSR or a fantastic experiment in cross-media marketing.  Or maybe it was both.  That really doesn't matter.

Many of us have read the novels.  I'm guessing a much smaller number of us played the modules.  Regardless of your opinions of either, I think that it's fair to say that the modules are some of the most railroading-est railroads put to the gaming public.  Basically, the modules force you to relive the novels.  Each adventure's beginning and end are scripted from the books, so even if you completely went off on your own in one adventure, the next one forced you to start where it needed you to start.  For some, that was probably fun.  Or not.

There was a time, back when I was a young, naive, and perhaps completely clueless individual, that I fully believed that the modules were written first, and that TSR had a group of people play them, and then had MW and TC write the novels based on what had happened at that gaming table.  That the personalities of the characters in the novels came from the personalities that those players had developed for the characters during play.  That the modules were not railroads (Didn't know that term at the time.) but merely open-ended adventure settings that the novels were born from.

I believed (before ever seeing the modules and seeing the error in my thinking) that the novels were a gigantic play report.  Wouldn't that have been cool?  (I know that I thought so.)  (I wonder if I was the only person to think this?)

So here's the real point of this post:  What if someone or some company actually attempted to do such a thing?  What if someone created a sandbox setting, had a party play in it for months or years, kept a series of play reports, and then converted them into a novel?

Assuming that the author was actually a decent writer, I wonder what the product of such an effort would look like.  Could it be done?  Has it ever been done before?  Would it be any good?  Would it "find an audience"?

I truly believe that such a novel could be a pretty good read.


  1. I think sandbox games produce terrible novels but interesting biographies.

  2. The first book I believe was written as you describe, with the character quirks developing out of roleplaying. There are numerous comments in the annotated versions about this. But you are right that the rest of the books came before the modules.

    I'd suggest re-reading the first book with that in mind, because it really does feel like a dungeon crawl at points. It is not nearly as good of a novel, however, as the other two.

  3. What you're describing is exactly what Drake Russel has done with his Hardway series. It's available on Amazon.

  4. I'd actually like to read a novel like that. Seeing for the first time that the first novel was a "novel-ized play report," I'll have to check that out. For the very first time, I'm interested in reading a Dragonlance novel.

    That said, the thing about a "novel-ized" play report is that it isn't going to follow the traditional ideas about how a novel's plot is organized. Personally, I don't think that's a bad thing, but it's going to be criticized for it quite badly, and even those who give it a shot will have some difficulty "getting" it, just because it won't be what they're used to.

  5. Isn't that basically what Holmes' "Maze of Peril" and Andre Norton's "Quag Keep" are?

  6. @Black Vulmea- I'm not so sure that I agree with you. A LOT of fantasy literature for a long time was not about grand adventures and saving the world, but more about heroes embarking on serial adventures (across many stories or novels). I think a sandbox campaign could easily lead to serial adventures of that type.

  7. @B King- I'll have to go back and take a look into that. I've never read the annotated version before. Thanks!

  8. @Todd and Restless- I'll have to go look into those. I had no idea.

    @Christopher- I have read a great many novels that bore no resemblance to each other in terms of plotting or anything else. I have to admit that I don't really know what you mean when you say "the traditional ideas about how a novel's plot is organized". Ultimately, I think that there are many reasons to like (and dislike) any written piece, and the method by which an author arrives at the plot of his writing should not affect how that writing is received.