Wizards of the Coast is trying something different with combat in Dungeons & Dragons. For its next major campaign release, a book titled Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen, it’s also releasing a board game — Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn — at retail for $79.99. But it’s not a spinoff game, and it’s not a merchandising tie-in, either. It’s a separate and complementary experience, a kind of narrative engine dressed up to look like a traditional wargame. As a result, it could become a new way to supplement homebrew campaigns going forward.
Warriors of Krynn is an abstract battle game — not a traditional wargame — one where tiny rectangular plastic markers stand in for large formations of warriors. It includes cardboard tiles with different terrain, shaped in such a way that they can create a single massive front line or multiple discrete battlefields, called “flanks,” in different undulating shapes — maybe even in a circle. There are also 28 mm heroic scale miniatures standing in for the heroes — representations of the same characters that will be exploring the world of Krynn in Shadow of the Dragon Queen. In fact, there’s nothing stopping players from bringing their own bespoke, personalized miniatures from their D&D game right into the board game.
Co-designer Rob Daviau is quick to point out that players won’t be battlefield commanders in Warriors of Krynn. They won’t be drawing their troops up into ranks and wheeling them left or right to advance or fall back. In fact, the battles themselves can go off without their intervention at all.
“When we were playtesting, we’d be like, Let’s assume that characters sit in the command tent and literally do nothing,” Daviau said during a press briefing. “If these battles just happen, how long does it take for everything to go wrong? OK, not that long.
“So the characters are important,” Daviau said. They’re just not necessarily leading the charge.
Put another way, Daviau said, “The battle is bigger than you. You are a component, and you can put your finger on the scale and try to tip things in your balance. But, especially at lower levels, you are not commanding. [...] The battles are happening around you, and your job as the heroes [is] going to be doing a special mission.”
[Warning: The next paragraph will spoil the stakes of an early mission in Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn, the board game from Wizards of the Coast, as well as the opening moments of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen.]
Take the very first scenario, for instance. Wizards of the Coast senior designer F. Wesley Schneider said during the press briefing that it will involve the evacuation of a noncombatant population, with the players trying to protect a mob of unarmed civilians. A large group of enemies attack, and the town must mount a defense. How effective that defense is will likely be up to random elements in the board game. The players’ characters will be forced to adapt to the situation, helping where they can. But their primary objective is to get the innocent to safety.
Think of Warriors of Krynn, therefore, as a novel way to depict what would otherwise be a narrative event in an RPG — a bit of flavor text written inside a box on the page turns into an abstract, evolving set of events in the board game. That being said, Wizards also stressed that Warriors of Krynn won’t be required to run the campaign found inside the Shadow of the Dragon Queen book. The book will include other ways to experience the same battles, and won’t require any additional $79.99 purchase.
Warriors of Krynn will include special rules for all 12 classes represented in the Player’s Handbook — Barbarian, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard. How well will a band of all bards do in the board game? About as well as you’d expect a bunch of troubadours to do in an RPG inspired by old war movies, Daviau said. But the design goal was to make sure that every member of the party has a role to play as the battles unfold. The outcome of those battles will have an impact on the action and the narrative in the RPG, and vice versa.
“There are 12 scenarios,” Daviau said. “Some of them tie very closely into key moments of the role-playing game, and some of them are a little less defined so the [Dungeon Master] can shape them, or remove them, or put them in as they like.” Ultimately, this collection of different battlefield scenarios should be able to serve as inspiration for novel homebrew campaigns, unlocking an entirely new storytelling tool for DMs and players alike.
Daviau is known in the board game industry as the creator of legacy board game mechanics, a genre of board games that includes his own critically acclaimed Risk Legacy and Pandemic Legacy, but also award-winning games like Gloomhaven and Charterstone. Legacy games evolve over time, with gags that include hidden components, new rules, and game boards that you write on. Some even require that you tear up cards or character sheets and throw them away, permanently removing them from the game.
Warriors of Krynn is not a full-fledged legacy-style game. None of the components will be altered or destroyed, meaning that you’ll be able to reuse the game over and over again. But it will borrow one element from Daviau’s past work: sealed sets of cards that will only unlock once players have leveled up in the RPG. Other, bigger surprises will no doubt be presented as the narrative of Dragonlance: Shadow of the Dragon Queen unfolds.
Both the campaign book and the Dragonlance: Warriors of Krynn board game will be available on Dec. 6. Some bundles from Wizards of the Coast will even give groups a two-week head start on the RPG, which launches early for some consumers on Nov. 22.