The Reading Canary: Sovereign Stone

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

There was a time, towards the tail-end of the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons product line and for most of the 2nd edition era, when Larry Elmore was the artist – not just the guy that TSR came to to illustrate the front covers of major Dungeons & Dragons releases, but the guy all their other artists tried to imitate. His realistic style, eschewing the mixture of the bizarre and the amateurish that characterised earlier artwork in Dungeons & Dragons products, was important in raising the production values of the line, and on top of that became inextricably linked in many people’s minds with the style of fantasy that TSR was pushing at the time with the Forgotten Realms and Dragonlance product lines. Less inclined towards massive rippling thews and nudity as a default than the likes of Boris Vallejo, Elmore’s art reflected a shift away from Howard-influenced sword and sorcery and more towards the sort of high fantasy written by the likes of Terry Brooks, Ray Feist, and Weis and Hickman – a subgenre that was itself influenced by the authors’ own experiences of Dungeons & Dragons, either officially or unofficially.

For those nostalgic for “old school” Dungeons & Dragons – or for fantasy fiction as it stood before the late 1970s – this shift represented the beginning of the end, the time when D&D stopped being about the fantasy genre and started becoming the fantasy genre, but for those who, like me, came to D&D in the early 1990s Elmore’s style is, itself, a thing to be nostalgic for – pieces like this looked like our adventurers had come to life and dragged their kills along to Elmore’s studio to get a portrait done, and were an endless source of inspiration.

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Hurr, More Like DragonLAME

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Once upon a time, TSR, publishers of Dungeons & Dragons, embarked upon an ambitious project – the creation of an series of adventure modules, penned by Margaret Weis and the surprisingly male Tracy Hickman, which would allow Dungeon Masters to guide their players through an epic storyline reminiscent of mid-80s sub-Tolkien fantasy novels in the vein of Terry Brooks or Raymond E. Feist – the sort of high-plot, high-concept, story-focused play which earlier D&D products hadn’t especially catered for but which the audience increasingly wanted. Accompanying the Dragonlance modules were a series of three tie-in novels by Weis and Hickman, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, Dragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning, and though they were cheap and trashy they were addictive enough reading that they stormed the bestseller lists, and became the first of a veritable wave of tie-in fiction that TSR would produce. (Indeed, it’s been argued that TSR’s over-reliance on tie-in fiction contributed to its eventual collapse.)

Of all the various Dungeons & Dragons settings – and TSR produced a very great number of them – Dragonlance was something special, not because of any particular feature of the setting (which was really rather ordinary and generic), but because of the publishing phenomenon associated with it. Forgotten Realms novels did quite well – R.A. Salvatore’s novels of Drizzt Do’Urden, the renegade dark elf, in particular – but the Realms had by that point also become TSR’s most popular and well-supported setting in terms of gaming material as well, and was also the subject of more computer game adaptations. Dragonlance, by comparison, was a setting in which the novel series was unambiguously the driving force, and the gaming material followed the novels’ lead. In the mid-1990s there were negotiations between TSR and Jim Henson Productions to produce a film series of the saga, but it was not to be. It took until 2008 for the direct-to-DVD release of the first cinematic adaptation of Dragonlance – specifically, the first book of the Dragonlance Chronicles, which were the first trilogy in the series. This film is the cumbersomely-entitled Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight (A Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Tale).

Continue reading “Hurr, More Like DragonLAME”