Creating the Dragonlance World

28 Nov 2007

The Dragonlance game world was originally created for TSR by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman in the early 1980s, and has since spawned over 150 successful fantasy novels, modules, and sourcebooks.  Margaret and Tracy's debut novel, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, introduced us to the Heroes of the Lance and set the stage for one of the most intricate, engrossing, and richly-detailed fantasy storylines ever written.  Fans have been asking for a movie ever since, and, now, nearly twenty-five years later, we're finally going to get one.  On January 15, 2008, Paramount will release an animated movie adaptation of Dragons of Autumn Twilight, starring such actors as Kiefer Sutherland (Raistlin), Lucy Lawless (Goldmoon), and Jason Marsden (Tasslehoff - and Myron from Fallout 2!).

In order to get a better understanding of how the Dragonlance world and "The Companions" were originally created, we fired over a set of questions to the duo that started it all. Our questions and Margaret and Tracy's answers to follow:


GB: For those readers who may not be entirely familiar with Dragonlance and the world of Krynn, can you give us a brief introduction to the setting? What makes it different from other D&D settings?

Margaret: For me, this goes back twenty years to when we were developing the Dragonlance world. Some things that made it different then were: 1) Women in major heroic roles. 2) Heroes who were "nobody". That is, heroes who were middle class working people (not kings, nobles, princes). 3) Heroes with flaws: Tanis lusting after Kitiara, Caramon's alcoholism, Raistlin's dark ambition, religious intolerance, racial prejudice, etc. 4) The use of humor is very important to lighten what could otherwise be a very dark story. So thank the gods for Tasslehoff! (Though some of the kender's companions might not agree!).

Tracy: It’s all about the story. Dragonlance was the groundbreaking world that set out to tell a story first and have an adventure second.



GB: What prompted you to create the Dragonlance game world in the first place? Did you have to convince TSR that the Dragonlance setting would be a good idea or were they on board from the beginning?

Margaret: Tracy needs to answer this. I came on board after the project was well into production. I do remember that management wanted to kill Dragonlance once. Tracy spent days coming up with sales figures for the first game modules. He presented them to management to prove that DL was actually outperforming all other D&D settings.

Tracy: The genesis for Dragonlance sprang out of personal desperation. My wife Laura and I had been out of work for over six months in northern Utah. Desperate to buy shoes for our children that winter, we sent some game adventures we had written to TSR in the hopes that they pay us five hundred dollars for them. As it turned out, they offered us a job. So we packed up our few belongings and started off across the wide north American plains on our hopeful way to a new life. It was during those long hours driving across the flatlands that Laura and I discussed what we might bring to this game company that would justify their actually PAYING us to make games for them. It was then that Dragonlance was born.



GB: How did the two of you initially meet and begin collaborating on Dragons of Autumn Twilight? Did you ever imagine that you'd wind up being a team for the next 20+ years?

Margaret: I came on board in the fall of 1983. I was hired as an editor by Jean Black, head of the TSR, Inc. book department. One of my tasks was to work with the Dragonlance setting. I was to develop a plot line that we could give to a famous fantasy writer who would then write the novels. I started sitting in on the Dragonlance game product meetings and there I met Tracy and the rest of the DL team: Michael Williams, Larry Elmore, Doug Niles, Harold Johnson. I fell in love with the world and the characters. As I worked on the plot, it became increasingly clear to both Tracy and me that we were the ones who should write this book because no one else could love the world as we did.

Tracy: The company had actually hired a writer from outside the company to write the books. As his pages started coming in, Margaret and I could see that he just didn’t have the vision of the world that we did. So we convinced Jean Black - editor at the time - to let us give it a try. We wrote the prologue and the first five chapters over a single weekend just on the hope it would be accepted ... and it was.



GB: Larry Elmore's cover art for your many Dragonlance novels and handbooks is arguably some of the finest and most recognizable artwork ever created for the role-playing industry. How did he originally become involved with Dragonlance? Would you say that his artwork helped contribute to the world of Krynn and inspire the stories the two of you have created over the years?

Tracy: Larry was there practically from the beginning. We wanted to sell this big project to the company and get everyone on board. We approached Larry and asked if he would be willing to do some ‘spec’ drawing depicting the story that we wanted to tell. Graciously, Larry did far more than we expected, producing not only voluminous drawing but four paintings designed specifically for that sales presentation. His art and covers have a lot to do with how we got here today.

Margaret: I have had so many readers tell me the reason they bought the book was because Larry's painting of the three characters on the front of the original Dragons of Autumn Twilight seemed to be speaking directly to them. Larry was and still is a big part of Dragonlance. His art will be featured on Lost Leaves from the Inn of the Last home, the final DL product coming out from Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd.



GB: Your Dragonlance novels featured some of the most memorable characters I've ever had the pleasure of reading about (Tanis, Raistlin, Tasslehoff, Fizban, and Lord Soth, to name a few). Can you give us an idea of what it took to come up with each character's background and personality before actually starting the writing process?

Tracy: Initially the characters were put together - quite literally - by committee! Everyone working on the project would set around a conference table and eventually we came up with a ‘typical’ party of adventurers that would be the core of our story. What we didn’t know at the time was that a good party of D&D adventurers does NOT necessarily make for good novel writing; there were far too many characters on stage at the same time. Every time they went anywhere in the first book, they moved like a tour group. Worse, before we started working on the books they were very two-dimensional characters. Breathing life and dimension into these characters was both challenging and rewarding.

Margaret: The one I remember most clearly was Raistlin. When I was developing the plot for the book, I had to come up with back stories for the characters, give them personalities, etc. All I had to go on was: the artists' portrayals of the characters and their game stats! With Raistlin, I knew he was a third level wizard (which non-gaming readers of the novel would say, "Huh?"), that he was frail and sickly and that he had a strong and powerful twin brother, Caramon. I knew that their companions called Raistlin "the Sly One". I also knew from the artwork that Raistlin had golden skin and hourglass eyes. I had to find a plausible reason for all these. The most difficult was, of course, the golden skin and hourglass eyes. I knew it wasn't genetic--Caramon looked perfectly normal. So the answer was, of course, the magic. The magic had done something to Raistlin, changed him. I asked myself: What if a mage had to undergo some sort of test? What if that test was one in which you had to stake your life on the outcome? Failure means death! How would your overprotective twin brother, who has guarded you all his life, feel about that? Answering these questions led me to know and understand the character of Raistlin as I have known few other characters (or even real live people!).