Thursday, October 14, 2010
In 1984, a 13 year old kid spent an entire week over summer vacation tucked away in an intolerably hot upstairs bedroom of my aunt's 200-year-old house in north Florida with an oscillating fan, a clock radio that seemed to play nothing but "When Doves Cry", and a copy of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.
As soon as I (in case you haven't guessed what 13-year-old I was referring to) was done, I immediately started over and read it again. I think I read it about five times that summer. It wasn't so much that it was a great book, or great writing, as much as it was the fact that this was a book about D&D. As in: a D&D campaign in novelized form.
For someone who had been led to D&D by fantasy fiction, it was quite an event for my young teen gaming-and-reading-obsessed mind to see it come full circle. I had already devoured any book I could find that featured an "earthly" role-playing group transported, somehow, to "D&D land" (and there were several out there at the time, Andre Norton's Grayhawk-session-inspired Quag Keep and Rosenberg's Sleeping Dragon notable among them), this was fantastic!
Weis and Hickman did a marvelous job of working the iconic elements of D&D into their novel - I knew what spells Raistlin was casting, I knew this guy was a Ranger and that chick was a Cleric, etc. Not to mention goblins, black dragons, etc, in their "traditional" D&D forms. Back then, I don't think I really noticed that Hickman was the same guy who wrote Rahasia and Ravenloft, two adventures I had run and played in respectively over just the previous school year, and would go on to play in the Pharaoh series while reading the rest of the Dragonlance trilogy.
The Dragonlance adventure modules, on the other hand, while a joy to read through and steal ideas from, were a horrible rail-roady experience to play (but we F'ing tried several times nonetheless!). I read and re-read DL 5: Dragons of Mystery as a sort of companion to the novels, as it featured specific write-ups of the characters and places in the novels. We played the excellent wargame from DL11: Dragons of Glory over and over again, coming up with our own new elements to make the game trickier. The dungeon adventures, though, were a good idea in theory, perhaps, but even back then I knew I preferred sandboxes and site-based adventures to acting out someone else's quests or following a script, no matter how much breathing room was available.
Ultimately, the novels outlived the adventures, spawning some 50+ books. I loved the first trilogy, enjoyed the second (which focused almost exclusively on the twins Raistlin and Caramon), read a couple more books out of boredom, and finally gave up on the series altogether. The last time I picked up a "current" book of the series, maybe 8 or 9 years ago, the world that 13-year-old fell into back in '84 was all but unrecognizable, having been destroyed and reborn or something like that.
I picked up the original Dragonlance trilogy again at a used book store last year, and have tried to read that very first book a couple of times since then, but just did not catch hold of that same old magic. Whether that's because the subsequent releases somehow spoiled it for me, or the fact that I'm just a whole different person than I was 26 years ago, I don't know.
But damn, I loved that book back then!