5 Heroic Campaign Strategies You Can Apply from the Dragonlance Chronicles

Last night I turned the last page on Dragonlance Chronicles #1, Dragons of Autumn Twilight. What an amazing book. The fourth time I’ve read it. This read-through, however, I pored over the pages like I was a game master running such a story.

Through that lens, I added five items to my Basilica GM’s Agenda that I’d like to share with you today (warning: Dragonlance spoilers ahead).

1. Keep the Pace Going With Relentless Up & Down Beats

Pace is not about cramming more encounters into a session until it burst, though that can be fun sometimes. Instead, the Dragonlance pace was that of high and low story beats.

In other words, great pacing is not about speed. It’s about switching back and forth between peak and trough points of energy.

For example, when things got grim or dramatic in Pax Tharkas, Tas and Fizban would provide comic relief. Or when the heroes had a chance to rest in the Forestmaster’s peaceful glade, Goldmoon and Riverwind had a terrible row.

Like a blade with jagged teeth, keep characters sawing between contrasting story beats so players will lose all track of time and never want to stop playing.

2. Serve Up a Variety of Amazing 5 Room Dungeon Locations

Dragonlance went from tree house town to lake to forest to swamp to underground ruined city to….whew! What an incredible cast of amazing locations.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to make every encounter’s location vastly different. So I focus instead on serving up a variety of 5 Room Dungeon locations.

If one 5RD takes place in the city’s slums, another in the noble district, another beyond the walls in the desert, then another in a muddy oasis, I achieve the same effect of entertaining players with a spectacular array of locales.

3. Heroes Have Flaws (And Back Stories)

Every member of the party, from Tanis to Sturm to Flint — every member — had a flaw. Whether it was self-doubt and inter turmoil from being half-elven, inflexible standards that put the heroes at momentary disadvantage, or a fear of water and a deep furrow of stubbornness, every character became even more appealing and heroic because they were flawed.

Also, each party member had a place in Krynn they called home. They had roots in the world that connected them to its people, places, and things.

In addition, each person had a background that anchored them to the action and story that unfolded. No character was siloed from cultures, history, or conflict.

4. The World Revealed Its Secrets

I was flipping through The Lazy Game Master last week and was reminded of Mike’s truths technique. Give your world, and each session, a half dozen or more things for the players to explore and discover.

I think many of us protect our secrets too hard. We need to always be causing gasps and white-knuckled dice clenching by serving up world twists, 5 Room Dungeon revelations, and encounter surprises.

The skill to master here is less about how and when to reveal secrets, and more about learning how to create a lot of them. My techniques of Plot Factories, 5 Room Dungeons, and Loopy Planning all facilitate a steady conjuration of truths, discoveries, and secrets in your campaigns.

5. Plot & Run Fronts

Dungeon World calls adventures Fronts. Imagine your central conflict as a metaphorical war. And there are great conflicts happening along multiple fronts of that war.

For example, in World War II you had the fronts of Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, the Pacific, Northern Europe, and more. Each of those “fronts” is an adventure or series of adventures.

Likewise, the battle against Verminaard in Pax Tharkas was just one Front in Dragonlance. There are more books in the series….

During an epic conversation last night in my group GM coaching program, one GM asked how to create a Front. And the Aha! moment came from merging a plotline you create with failing forward from the villain’s perspective.

For example, the Dragonlance heroes fought hard against the draconians and won. But then they became prisoners. They successfully made it to the ancient city of Xak Tsaroth. But then Riverwind died. They rediscovered the gods. Then they discovered the elves were fleeing Qualinesti.

Instead of making brittle plans of how our Front will unfold, we instead stay agile and play our world and the game pieces within it to continually challenge the party with complications, setbacks, and events. If these challenges emerge organically and authentically from our setting, players will embrace them.

This is baked into the 5 Room Dungeon structure, with Rooms III and V taking care of a lot of this exciting aspect gameplay.

Speaking of 5RDs, thank you to everyone who signed up to the Master of the 5 Room Dungeon waitlist yesterday. I’ll email you right away when seats open up so you can be the first to grab yours.

In this workshop, I teach you how to keep the pace frenetic with up and down beats, how to use 5 Room Dungeons as a Decanter of Endless Secrets, how to serve up amazing adventure locations, and more.

Sign up to the waitlist to get first crack at a seat when the next Master of the 5 Room Dungeon Workshop opens up.


Have more fun at every game!

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