LEGO Ideas 21348 Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon’s Tale – One-shot wonder or a critical miss? [Review]

This year, we celebrate a very important anniversary in the LEGO community. And no, I’m not referring to the 50th anniversary of Dungeons and Dragons, although that’s certainly an epic milestone. Instead, I’m talking about the 25th anniversary of Star Wars LEGO sets. For it was all the way back in 1999 with that star-crossed fusion of intellectual property that some of us first believed we could see our favorite bricks paired with D&D. Well, it’s finally happened with LEGO Ideas 21348 Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon’s Tale. Coming in at 3,745 pieces, this set is based on the contest-winning design by fan Lucas Bolt, and sculpted into the final model by LEGO designers (and huge D&D fans) Mark Stafford and Jordan Scott. The set will release on the LEGO website on April 1st for LEGO Insiders (April 4th for everyone else), and retail for US $359.99 | CAN $469.99 | UK £314.99. But will Red Dragon’s Tale pass the TBB constitution check, or are we headed for saving throws? Read on to find out!

The LEGO Group sent The Brothers Brick an early copy of this set for review. Providing TBB with products for review guarantees neither coverage nor positive reviews.

A note before we begin

As I write this review, I remain torn on the best way to approach this model. The set 21348 Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon’s Tale is overflowing with references to the source material that I could easily discuss such that only the dedicated RPG-er would be able to follow along. And separately, LEGO and Wizards of the Coast are making a campaign available that pairs directly with this set (free through WotC’s D&D Beyond website, or through the LEGO Insiders store for 2,700 points). If I were to cover 21348 with as much detail as possible, I would likely alienate a good number of readers not yet initiated in the ways of math rocks and character sheets. And at the same time, I would also completely spoil a fantastic one-shot for those looking to use this set for some actual tabletop gaming.

As such, I won’t be highlighting every single monster, any of the loot by name, or most of the hidden secrets. And I’ll also lay forth a warning before we begin with the build: if you plan to play the Red Dragon’s Tale campaign before building the set yourself, there are some unavoidable spoilers ahead. I’ve done my best to omit plot points where the review didn’t suffer as a result, but there are some that I just can’t leave out. Anyway, you’ve been warned.

The unboxing

Emblazoned with the Dungeons & Dragons logo and a “50 Years of D&D” symbol, the front of the box makes it clear that the partnership with Wizards of the Coast is real. As an Ideas set, the box has a stripe of red brick-ery along its bottom edge, and shows this as the 56th set in the fan-designed line. Spinning the box around, the back has a rear view of the set as well as a better look at that red dragon in flight, and some insets with play features and a diagram of how the set comes together.

From the bottom of the box, you can see a smattering of the minifigs and mythical monsters found within, including all four members of the adventuring party, a Dragonborn NPC (non-playable character), and four standards from the D&D monsters line-up. There’ll be much more on all of them as we continue on with the review.

Kicking off a tour of the container’s contents, the set’s instructions are separated out into four books, each with a wonderful bit of cover art by LEGO fan Chris Yu. Within the first pages of Book 1, we find write-ups on Lucas and Chris, as well as plenty of info on the history and composition of the D&D universe.

Also included is a sticker sheet. While I normally avoid stickers as much as possible, all of these were easy to apply, and I especially like the look of the three book covers on the south end of the sheet. An accompanying brown envelope contains all the fabric parts: two dragon wings and three minifigure capes.

The rest of the box’s contents amounts to 32 numbered bags, an unnumbered bag of large plates, and one large dark gray rock piece. Based on the color palette of each bag, you can kind of tell the construction journey about to commence, with some singular bags dedicated solely to a single monster.

The build

It feels like all great Dungeons & Dragons adventures begin in a tavern, and this one is no different. Bag 1 constructs the first floor exterior of this fine establishment. A small dock juts out into a patch of dark blue water – quite the excellent choice in a set full of interesting color usage. We can see the start of a stone pathway leading up to one of those beautiful new wooden door inserts (there’s 7 total in the set).

Bag 2 adds on more detail to the exterior, and fully-overhauls the interior. Boxes are stacked up along the chimney by the dock, and the tavern’s sign appears next to the front door. It’s the perfect play-on-words for a conclusion that everyone expects. Think of it like the fantasy corollary to the narrative principle of “Chekhov’s gun:” a dragon that shows up on the adventure’s cover is going to make an appearance! Inside, the bar is stocked with ale, weapons (for Fighters and Bards, alike), and the all-important chicken wings and hot sauce.

As a tavern for the world weary, of course lodging is available upstairs if you have the coin for it. Bag 3 throws together a comfy bed next to a small upper-level fireplace, and bag 4 completes the rest of the room, as well as the exterior. The angled dormer is a glorious addition to this inn, and the blue roof really makes it pop. And on second thought, maybe that bed isn’t so comfy after all….

Last in the tavern construction, bag 5 completes the blue and purple roof and adds a curl of smoke coming out of the chimney. Each level is removable, allowing for appropriate access to the adventurers exploring within. While there’s no staircase leading up to level two, this isn’t an uncommon omission from other castle/fantasy sets, and doesn’t feel missed here.

Bag 6 begins the grounds outside the inn and ruined castle. Again, I marvel at the wonderful color palette chosen here, contrasting dark blue water with bright green and tan shores. In the northwest corner, some transparent tiles are added to show some disturbed water.

Bag 7 fleshes out the dungeon aspect of the ruins, creating a chamber to house a pair of gelatinous cubes, one big and one small. For the uninitiated, these monsters tend to pick up items from their surroundings, including the occasional foolish adventurer. So be careful not to get sucked into that trans-light blue Jello! This room is littered with plenty of bones, debris, and loot. And if you can take out all the monsters, a magical staff hiding in the corner could be yours.

The second story of the castle comes together in bags 8 and 9. A small mushroom patch and campfire appear next to a bit of ruined wall. And on the other side of the model, prickly vines climb up the rocks. I would show you the backside of the model at this point, but spoilers! From a LEGO building and technical perspective, you’re not missing much.

With bags 10 and 11, a bridge appears above the mushroomed clearing and battlements go up atop the ruined section of the castle. And back down in the clearing, we add a smattering of giant spiders, some pine trees and other vegetation, and a rock wall blocking off the dungeon from view. That wall holds some bits of loot on its reverse side, adding to the treasures available in the gelatinous cubes’ lair.

Our first brick-built creature comes to form with bag 12. An awakened tree abuts the right side of the rock wall. It’s not an Ent or Treefolk like vegetal beings from other fantasy stories, but a normal tree that’s been given sentience through the use of magic. The printed 2×2 curved slope with its face is superb! And its gnarled roots perfectly fit into the gap left in the rock. And some lovely light blue flowers fill the meadow out in front of it. Now, if someone could just do something about those darn spiders!

The last bag for this section of the build, number 13, contains the pieces for the owlbear and myconids. While the owlbear is exactly what it sounds like (half owl, half bear), the myconids are a sentient fungus, represented here using the Dreamling body from the DreamZzz series. I’ll have more pictures of the monsters later on in the review.

It’s at this point that we can bring the tavern and the meadow together and see how this layout is taking shape. The transition appears effortless, helped by the stone path leading from the tavern door. Time to set about building the looming tower next.

We begin the tower with bags 14 and 15. A staircase at the center of the room immediately takes shape, employing quite a bit of “studs-not-on-top” tech leading into a spiral staircase to the upper landing. Candles with green flames tell me this is likely a very dangerous room! Plus, I don’t know about you, but I’d probably avoid whatever that pink plant is. From a LEGO design perspective, I’ve always found that style of staircase (originally made for Harry Potter sets) to be quite awkward to use in a build. But the designers here implement it perfectly, freezing it in place using exposed studs underneath the upper-most and bottom-most steps.

Knocking out bag 16, the room’s walls are completed, and the room is populated with a trio of skeletons. Each armed with different magic or martial weapons, they appear to be quite the force! And just ignore whatever that is hanging down next to the door on the left. Next time, don’t fail your perception check.

The last two bags for this bottom floor of the tower (17 and 18), assemble the beholder and the displacer beast. The former is definitely one of the most iconic monsters found only in D&D, and is quite the powerful enemy, boasting a high intelligence and powerful magic. But the cat-like displacer beast has its own magic, making it a very difficult target to hit. Again, we’ll have some more views later on when we talk about all the monsters.

The second floor of the tower begins simply enough with bags 19 and 20. It’s a hybridization of the cliffs from above the meadow and the ruined castle walls. And in the middle of it all, there’s just a shrine to Tiamat. Before you go Googling that, non-dungeon delver, know that it’s THE evil dragon in Dungeons and Dragons (and the canonical foil to Bahamut, ruler of all the good dragons). So, with that in mind, something tells me that excellently-printed lime green orb might be important. You probably guessed from the pieces used, but pulling that key out releases a trap door down to the room below.

Bag 21 completes the room with the shrine, adding a brick-built staircase around its exterior and some ornate decorations around the door.

The next bag, 22, adds details to the room above, laying out many tables full of magical goodness. I especially love the 1×2 printed tiles with different spells on them. The set includes several copies of the 4 variants, and I’ll be putting them to good use in my own designs. This story also gives us a better view of the stained glass above the doors of the tower, with this level’s being trans-pink and trans-yellow.

And bag 23 completes this level of the tower, while still leaving the room partially exposed. This not only adds to the ruined look of the spire, but also allows for essential playability.

The last room of the tower is completed with bag 24. Reaching peak craggy-ness, the light gray construction finally comes to a point, but not before populating one final room with something that’s definitely a spoiler. And while not the highlight of this part of the build, I love the pair of spindly pines hanging off the edge of this section.

Bringing the whole creation together at this point, the scale of this layout truly comes into focus. It’s quite tall, yet remains relatively easy to move (in sections, mind you). From talking with the designers, there were some definite concerns about going too big and creating a mammoth map that would be too unwieldy to turn or move.

We’re in the final stretch with bags 25 and 26 assembling the body of our antagonistic dragon. A smattering of reds and oranges, the beast also sports black spines and a tan underbelly. And there’s plenty of tow ball joints big and small to affix the coming limbs.

Bag 27 brings the tail into being. I’ve been fairly reserved in my criticism with the set thus far. And quite frankly, that’s because there isn’t any. Every bit of this set up to bag 27 has been as perfect as us LEGO fans could hope. But this tail does present a bit of a design failure. The tow ball joint is unable to support the weight of it, leading to constant droop, especially when trying to pose the dragon atop the model like in the box image. Certainly something that can be remedied with a redesign by the builder and their spare parts. And if that’s the only criticism I can come up with in this gigantic set, that’s still saying something!

The wings come together next in bags 28 and 29. It’s quite a bit of Technic, something that’s been missing from the set thus far. And the choice of the new red-orange for the wing color is outstanding. A pair of click hinges where they meet the body allow them to pose however needed.

Bags 30 and 31 form the arms and legs of this crimson beast. It’s a little off-putting at first having the dragon rest on its claws. But after assembly, it feels quite natural, and doesn’t pose much posing difficulty.

Finally we arrive at the last bag, number 32, which holds the pieces for the head. This may be the best-designed portion of the set, giving the red brute the perfect attitude for a D&D dragon. I particularly like the use of the broom bottoms in tan to form the horns crowning this monster.

All together, this dragon is quite the exceptional beast on its own. Save for the tail issue, I would say it’s worthy of a dedicated set on its own.

The minifigures and monsters

Those who have read my past reviews know that I’m not much of a minifigure guy. But even with this set, I have to respect all the great detail that went into these figures. It’s clear that great care was taken to be as inclusive as possible with these figures, both for personal representation and creative flexibility purposes. Part of the magic of RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons is to represent yourself in a different form, in a different world. Miniatures have always presented some limitations to an imaginative process, but LEGO has included torso and leg prints with utmost flexibility, as well as two heads for each minifigure. This allows the player/builder to swap heads, D&D races, and even skin colors (with the exception of some exposed ears on the hair pieces) to craft a character that represents what they want. That said, I’ll be looking at the defaults per the instructions, with the other heads next to the figures.

We start off with the Elf Wizard and Orc Rogue. The wizard is equipped with a spellbook and three distinct pages, as well as a quarterstaff for casting. Their blue robes have back printing on the torso only, but each head contains two expressions. The rogue has their quintessential cloak in dark blue. Armed with daggers or a crossbow, the figure has light blue leather armor showing on the front and back of the torso, but their head only has printing on the front.

Next up we have a Gnome Fighter and a Dwarf Cleric. The fighter has half plate armor as a neck piece, and wields either a longsword or a short sword and shield. Their displacer beast print with a yellow and orange background has become one of my favorite LEGO shields. With eared hair and the shortest minifig legs, our fighter has front and back printing on the torso and both head variants. Meanwhile, the cleric comes with a warhammer and holy symbol. Their beard covers some dark turquoise chainmail, accented by shoulder pauldrons in gold. From the back, that turquoise print continues, along with reverse-side printing on the heads as well. The black eye is an excellent touch!

In the NPC category, we have the three skeletons, a dragonborn NPC (non-playable character), and the innkeeper (and yes, I’m withholding names). The three skeletons are your standard fare, all except for the brilliant iridescent cape on one of them. And our dragonborn friend has the same molded head as one of the Vidyo characters. Their torso is double-sided, and sports a great print with some yellow-green arms.

Finally, we come to the innkeeper. And if ever there was a spoiler you wanted to avoid, stop reading now! Like the playable characters, they come with two different heads, each with double-sided expressions. The red and dark gray torso has printing on both sides, and sports the insignia that can be seen on some of the battlements of the ruined castle. I wonder if that’s important…

Oh yeah, you probably want to see the reverse side of their minifig heads, right? Well, flip that dome around, and the innkeeper is revealed to be the antagonist of this adventure, transforming into a powerful wizard bent on chaotic evil! The prints are astounding, and pair well with the glowing green Arcane Blast and wizard’s staff.

Taking a quick look at all the brick-built monsters one more time, I present the displacer beast, owlbear, gelatinous cube, myconid and beholder. I’ve removed the fungusfolk’s cap to give a better view of the minifigure head, and included rear shots as well.

The final build

With the set completely assembled, it’s absolutely jam-packed with D&D references. You can barely go 5 studs without tripping over a potion bottle, a monster of some kind, or a secret compartment (and no, I didn’t show you all of them). If there was ever only going to be one D&D LEGO set, this model certainly tries to cover everything. The individual modules split apart easily, using limited stud connections between floors, and minimal Technic pin connections between sections. The only bit that structurally feels out of place is the dragon. There’s no definitive place for the beast to perch, so I’m left to bend it up over the bridge.

Conclusions and recommendations

At a time when it feels like every single large LEGO set hitting shelves is a must-have, this is certainly one more for the list. Too many builders have been itching for this crossover for far too long, and it’s going to be an immediate success. But even without that pent-up desire from the fandom, Red Dragon’s Tale is worthy of such a success. Mark, Lucas, and the other designers have put their collective heart and soul into this set and it shows. It’s easily the most narratively complex LEGO set I’ve ever built, and that was before I read the accompanying campaign. Walking through the instructions, with each new bag I cracked open, I felt more and more like I was 11 again, sitting on the floor working on a castle of my own design and the underlying story bringing the build to life. While I know this is an Ideas set for adults (with a price tag to match), I think there are real storytelling lessons here that I hope make their way into City, Ninjago, or really any theme.

There will be those that are disappointed that there’s no grid system here, or that their favorite monster was left out, or that they’re not able the be the Kenku Warlock they want to be. But, much like any D&D campaign, don’t let the story or rules get in the way of playing the game the way you want to. Design your own grid, your own monster, or your own minifig adventurer and add it in. We often get too caught up staying inside the lines to explore what lies beyond them, concerned about playing only with the game pieces that are included. But this is a fusion of two systems (building and storytelling) that are made for customization, so make it your own if you’re not satisfied.

Finally, there is one group that’s likely unavoidably disappointed by this set: those who aren’t fans of D&D or RPGs. From all the marketing and hype around this design, it’s an unavoidable aspect of the model. The dragon intentionally is designed to look like those from the Forgotten Realms, iconic and unique monsters were intentionally chosen because they’ve never appeared in a LEGO set before. And the model is just begging to be played with given all the hidden features and narrative aspects. I’d never tell anyone to pass on a LEGO set that I believe is an exceptional design, but what you get out of this may be akin to 31120 Medieval Castle and not much more if D&D isn’t your thing.

LEGO Ideas 21348 Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon’s Tale is made of 3,745 pieces and will hit LEGO’s digital shelves on April 1st for LEGO Insiders (April 4th for non-members). It will retail for US $359.99 | CAN $469.99 | UK £314.99.

The post LEGO Ideas 21348 Dungeons & Dragons: Red Dragon’s Tale – One-shot wonder or a critical miss? [Review] appeared first on The Brothers Brick.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *