Having recently reread Dragons of Autumn Twilight, I naturally continue with the original Dragonlance books to this, Dragons of Winter Night. Once again proving that my fondness for the series and setting is not due only to nostalgia, this book continues the exciting story of Krynn's battle against evil dragons.
In this book, we learn a lot about the different sorts of elves of Krynn: the Silvanesti, Qualinesti, and Kagonesti. We learn more about wizardry, the knights of Solamnia and its different orders, and quite a lot more about dragons.
Any discussion about Dragonlance eventually comes back to the dragons. After all, the reason we have Dragonlance at all is TSR's desire to increase the dragon-to-dungeon quotient. The first two books have met that challenge. Krynn provides the reader with D&D dungeons in the form of ancient ruins to be explored, caverns, castles, and dangerous mines. And the dragons are ever-present, willful, and terrifying. They are the very top of the food chain in Krynn, and you never forget it. Dragon orbs provide an easy plot device, in much the same way that Kryptonite offers a convenient, albeit rare, exception to Superman's godlike powers. Krynn is a perfect blend of dungeons and dragons, and Dragonlance delivers information about it in a magical and captivating way.
The story of Winter Night is truly epic, and in this book we see some major events. We experience a major character death, as well as major revelations that had been sown ages ago, way back in the first book. But satisfaction isn't just handed out freely in Dragonlance books. Powers gained in this book aren't able to be used yet for one reason or another, refuge found is short-lived, and allies are less friendly than expected.
If you're looking to boost your powers as a storyteller, this is an excellent example of the tricks of the trade. Imagine the mixture of disappointment, surprise, and finally resolve that your players would experience if, when they finally reach the fabled stronghold of brave warriors, all the warriors turn out to be corrupt or immobilized by petty in-fighting. Or the frustration at finding a mythical weapon of power only to be unable to use it for lack of training or attunement or a potential side effect.
There's much to learn as players, too. Dragons of Winter Night is a story about heroes, but heroes with flaws. The party isn't a perfect assembly. Sometimes there's serious disagreement, suspicion, and doubt. And that makes the story all the more interesting. When the party is split, it's a strange sense of relief, but also agonizing.
The struggle truly is the adventure in Dragonlance, and that's a great RPG lesson. Exploration and combat and intrigue are all important elements of a good RPG adventure, but if everything happens according to the player's or DM's plans, then it's not an adventure. It may well be a story, and maybe a very good one, and one that was fun to experience. But to make something adventurous is to stop telling the story and start living it.