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Monday, September 6, 2021

Announcement: YouTube Channel and Playtesting

Oloré, this weeks post will just be a short announcement. At the end of July I started a YouTube channel focused on books: https://youtube.com/channel/UCy3nRShupS4JmniQ7EG3hYw

I have done a couple on Forgotten Realms books which I’ll link below. Otherwise it’s also been a good opportunity to talk about other books that I read. Such as Appendix N books that influenced Gygax’s creation of Dungeons & Dragons among other works. 

If you like your content in video format, this may be for you. Anyways, next week I’ll be back with another review!

Erevis Cale Saga Overview:

https://youtu.be/GB89zMBaMZ0

Elminster: The Making of a Mage review: 

https://youtu.be/st8tBs0b1z4


I have also had the opportunity for the pat month to participate in playtesting the first adventure for a new setting over on Tim “Renfail” Anderson’s channel. It’s been great fun, and we are about to wrap up. The sessions have been streamed every Wednesday at 8:30 pm Central time for those interested.

Here’s the first sessions recording:

https://youtu.be/E4I8dvmdRDg

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Review: The Reaver by Richard Lee Byers

The Reaver is a standalone book by Richard Lee Byers set in the Forgotten Realms during the events of The Sundering, when the cosmology got smacked around and gods were reborn and many changes brought by the Spellplague were brought back.

The Reaver is technically book four of The Sundering book series, but they’re all effectively standalone, though one character from The Reaver makes a cameo in the fifth book, The Sentinel by Troy Denning. And technically Stedd first appeared in book 3, The Adversary, but that was just a small introduction to him. The whole Sundering series is one of the few Forgotten Realms books you’ll find at Barnes and Noble these days.

The Reaver introduces us to some pirates of the Sea of Fallen Stars somewhere near the city of Teziir on the Dragon Coast. The Inner Sea has been wracked with endless storms in this time of upheaval. Our main characters are Anton Marivaldi who is a “renowned reaver with a insatiable thirst for bounty who, when it comes to a choice between two evils, always chooses the one he’s never tried” as the back of the book tells us. He is originally from Turmish

“When the tempest is born,

As Storm-tossed waters rise uncaring,

The promised hope still shines.

And the Reaver beholds 

The Dawn-born chosen’s gaze,

Transforming the darkness into light”

So prophesied Elliandreth of Orishaar in the days of the First Sundering aeons before.


Evendur Highcastle, is an undead pirate captain, and chosen of Umberlee, who is the Queen of the Depths, evil sea goddess often fittingly called The Bitch Queen, funnily enough, who is after a perpetual tempest to cover the seas. 

“[V]ying with high castle for the hearts and minds of the people is Stedd Whitehorn, a little boy and the chosen of a god thought lost to time: Lathander, the Morninglord”, the god of the Dawn.

Umara Ankhlab is a red wizard of Thay, in service to a vampire and sent as sent by the undead ruler of Thay, the lich Szass Tam. 

The year is 1486 DR, so just a few years before most fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons adventures. Byers really makes the setting come to life, and it was interesting following someone of a more wicked bend. When finally getting a grasp of the situation in chapter one, Byers throws a wrench in.

We have pirates, vampires, chosen of the gods (alive and dead), sea monsters, gangs, and celestials, 

Byers writing is nice though often over my head, he utilizes many words I’ve never heard before, in all his works. These words aren’t literary or archaic generally either, just very particular. 

An interesting relationship develops in the book, one I wasn’t expecting. I always appreciate an unlikely friendship. While the story itself is good I was largely not drawn in and left disappointed by that. I found it Acceptable. I leave it up to you to decide if you may like it.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Dragonlance Review: Dragons of Spring Dawning

 The Dragon Highlords and their armies still dominate the land, but some free people’s stand resolute not to surrender to their tyranny. Palanthas has been giving a respite with the cost of the lives of hundreds of Knights of Solamnia. Will help come? Will the dragon orbs be mastered? Will the goodly metallic dragons come to face their ancient enemy? Released in 1985, this is the third and final novel of the Dragonlance Chronicles. Read my thoughts on the first novel and second novel in the series. 




The story starts off with Berem, the mysterious man with the gem in his chest that’s gotten a little attention in the first two books but is still largely a mystery. He reminds me some of Sméagol from The Lord of the Rings. As you can imagine, in this finale we start getting lots of answers as secrets are uncovered and revealed. 


Part one takes us back to Tanis, Caramon, Raistlin, Tika, Goldmoon, and Riverwind in Flotsam on the Blood Sea of Istar. I was very impressed with how atmospheric it starts, it immersed me quickly in the story, faster and more deeply than the first two books. 


Tanis makes his escape from the clutches of Kitiara, who is away in the west, having just slain Sturm Brightblade at the end of Dragons of Winter Night. Tanis struggles with his role of leadership since he feels he betrayed his friends by staying with Kitiara for a few days. 


Kitiara is such an interesting character. Her reveal was the biggest shock to me in Dragons of Winter Night, and the fact that she has a former lover, acquaintances, and brothers on the opposing side made for an interesting dynamic. 


Raistlin becomes a lot more enjoyable and interesting in this book. He was certainly getting there in book two, but in this one, every time we had a chapter from his Point of view, my eyes were glued to the page. 


A few chapters into part one, we head back to the characters in the west. She started down a path I really loved near the end of book two, but Laurana continues to shine in Dragons of Spring Dawning. She grows into her own, and is regal, wise, and loving way. But she is also burdened and scarred by her experiences, and the responsibilities put on her. Though in some ways I was disappointed with her arc, it kinda fizzled for me.


Big plus, Flint and Tas are back together and they’re banter is so fun to read
Of new characters introduced in part one, Astinus was my favorite, he’s oddly immortal and is tasked it seems to record all events, or at least important ones, in history. I’d like to see more of him in stories that take place before or after this.


We also get to finally see Palanthas, which is the grandest city to be explored in the series, considering it survived the Cataclysm unlike Tarsis. 


“I don’t believe any of us were sitting around praying for a war, but war has come, and now you must do what you can to win it.”


Part one ends with things getting going. The forces against Takhisis finally rally some and seem to be able to stand somewhat of a chance.


Part two has some going into danger and others escaping from it. Some of this didn’t sit well with me, as it’s passed off as love but seems more like stupidity. This part tries to be more poetic and those two things didn’t work for me. Because it seems like it tries but isn’t succeeding. I can see why this could be popular with younger audiences. Don’t get me wrong, the progression of the war is finally coming to its climax and I was excited to finish.


Part three brings us back to a character that I didn’t discuss in my Dragons of Winter Night video because he was thought dead by the end of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. I can happily say that Fizban, Dragonlance’s Gandalf, does make an appearance in his own hilarious fashion that kicks off part three to a great start. 


Then we get lots of development, be prepared to be sad, to feel loss, but to feel joy. I will honestly say that this story is pretty good, but I had a few things spoiled before reading and that did dampen the fun. There are a few threads of adventure left at the end though, and I’m curious to follow them.


That being said this series did disappoint me some, and I think it’s largely because I didn’t find it lived up to the hype. Which of course overrating and underrating a book can make the level of enjoyment fluctuate drastically, at least for me. I generally try to go in with neutral feelings but I’m not always successful. Oddly the first book was my favorite, I think I’m in the minority with that opinion. 


This book also had flat writing, which really wasn’t engaging, but the story and humor make up for it. Most characters, even after the whole series of development are still cliché. With the reluctant leader, brooding Warrior, and so forth. With this conclusion, the book is Acceptable. Sadly at this point, I was just sick of the writing and almost went into a reading slump with it.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Review: Reunification (Body & Soul) by Jeff Grubb

 Jeff Grubb is known for many contributions to Dungeons & Dragons, among the plethora of products he wrote was the Forgotten Realms comic line of the late 80s and early 90s. Years after finishing the comic series he wrote a short story that ties into it, that is Reunification (Body & Soul) from Dragon Magazine issue 247 of May 1998. It can be found on pages 63-71. If you want a glimpse of the characters as they appear in the comic line I reviewed the first story arc here. 



There is another short story that also ties into Dragon Magazine 260 from June 1999. The story there, The Honor of Two Swords, was written by Grubb’s wife, and ofttimes writing companion, Kate Novak. I will be reviewing this later. 

Story art by Rags Morales


Vartan hai Sylvar, gold elf cleric of Labelas Enoreth, is in his god’s palace in Arvandor. He is acting like a sneak-thief to gain access a magical item so he can check on his old friends from the Halruaan caravel, Realms Master. Their old leader, the magic-user, Omen, is withering with disease brought in by a curse. He hopes to avoid his demise by magical means.

The party is on some unnamed island in the Sea of Fallen Stars, where an extravagant setup is being tested, to see if Omen can transfer his soul to a brass golem. He has tried every other option available to him. This goal takes them on a psychic journey. 

This is after Jeff Grubb left TSR, but he had been going contract work still, mostly on Jakandor. It was great seeing a story in classic First Edition style (released in late 2e times), where gods interact with the people of Toril. While not a super meaningful story to me, since I haven’t read all the comics, it does leave some possibilities open. I’ll see what the next story holds, but maybe some crew of the Realms Master will appear in my own Games. The story is Good.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Taking a Look at Magic the Gathering’s Adventures in the Forgotten Realms

 I haven’t played Magic the Gathering (shortened to just Magic or abbreviated to MTG) in years, I don’t plan to change that. I did decide to get some packs of the new set that features the Forgotten Realms, called Adventures in the Forgotten Realms. 

Goin in, I was mostly interested in cameos of named characters. I have mixed feelings on what we got. Fans of Drizzt will likely be satisfied, as well as fans of the comics, but novel fans will mostly be disappointed with little exception. 

I was overall happy with the themes of dungeon crawling, and the class cards are interesting. I appreciated all the spells from the game thrown in, and the classic monsters as well: dragons, beholders, rust monster, etc.


Right off the bat, Drizzt, Bruenor, and Farideh do appear. We also have cards for characters from some comics, such as Minsc and Krydle. There was also a party of four introduced for the set, Ellywick Tumblestrum, Hama Pashar, Nadaar, and Varis. Something I see as making sense since the lore mess that is fifth edition leaves us, we also get some Greyhawk characters such as Mordenkainen and Acererak. 

No Elminster, no Mirt, or any of the Seven Sisters, or Myrmeen, no characters from any classic Realms work really besides Drizzt and Bruenor. It’s sad what state Wizards of the Coast has left the Realms, at this point I rather they sell the setting so it can be treated properly, instead of the flesh golem setting they have now with a world mixed with Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Greyhawk, and Spelljammer.

So MTG may be for you. If you are really into the lore (if you can call it that) of Fifth Edition, which would be almost exclusive to the published adventures, then this may be cool. If you're like me, and love the classic Realms, then you'll think this was poorly named. That being said, not all is lame, seeing as the cards that are present are mostly cool. Next time maybe they won't commit such a big offense and leave out Elminster again.

I realize Hasbro is in the business of making money, and I’m sure they’re excelling. I just wish it wasn’t at the detriment of lore. Until next time. 

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Dragonlance Review: Dragons of Winter Night

As I stated in my thoughts for Dragons of Autumn Twilight (found here), I will be doing book reviews from other settings from time to time. I really enjoyed the first book and wanted to quickly finish the trilogy of the Dragonlance Chronicles, so here we are, book 2: Dragons of Winter Night.

We have a poem speaking of the nine Heroes of the Lance, a nice homage to the nine walkers of the Fellowship of the Ring. Though admittedly some noticeable characters are left out of this nine, for example Laurana.

“Nine they were, under the three moons,

Under the autumn twilight:

As the world declined, they arose

Into the heart of the story.”

The story then starts with the refugees of Pax Tharkas giving the Hammer of Kharas to the dwarves of Thorbardin. It was a little odd since a tale seems to have transpired in between the books, and I believe this story is told in Dragons of the Dwarven Depths, book one of The Lost Chronicles. The party is to set out to the city of Tarsis, a city cut off from the peoples of Solace and Haven since the Cataclysm, but with the access to the dwarven kingdom, now supposedly possible, assuming it survived the Cataclysm. 

A few chapters in, the heroes are separated, similar in a fashion  to the Breaking of the Fellowship. This is slightly spoiled by the back of the book, but it does happen relatively quick, and I will not spoil how.

This novel is a little darker, a little lower. Not everything goes swimmingly, is is fittingly typical for a middle book, when the heroes reach their low point and bad things happen. There are mirky woods to traverse, dragon fire to avoid, and ancient artifacts and secrets to be uncovered. In particular I enjoyed the nuanced nature of the dragon orbs.

The second part of the book continues the story with the second half of the party that’s been sundered. They seem to have had their own adventure in the last month, and in the first chapter we get the details of their dealings in the icy lands. It’s crazy how much more of the continent of Ansalon we get to see in this book. I also really love the homages to Tolkien. Overall part two was fun, with a solid conclusion.

Part three hops around more from character to character as in common in modern epic fantasy. We get some great time with some favorite characters (mine particularly being a doddering  wizard. We have a council reminiscent of Elrond’s, though more exciting and frustrating. People die, things are revealed. I’m not really sure where book three is going to continue and where it will go.

I will say that the foreshadowing is a bit too bold, since every time it was given I was able to guess what would happen, making some surprises not so surprising. A couple times no foreshadowing was given, particularly there was one big surprise near the end that was quite a shock. 

Overall the story is Good, maintains entertainment while being a little slower than the first book, with less action, more world building, and fewer pages. I do feel like I’m in the minority liking the first book more. We skip around a lot, and there was so much story to tell, I think the authors were just trying to get the book down to D&D novel size rather than typical epic fantasy size. Don’t get me wrong, this book does have its moments and I did enjoy it. Onward to Dragons of Spring Dawning.

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You can track my current progress here.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Review: The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn is the second book of The Sundering, the cosmological, world shaking series that brought Realms lore from fourth edition to fifth edition. It is also the final iteration of The Legend of Erevis Cale (I may have made that up), being a sequel to the Twilight War Trilogy. This is my fourth review for The Sundering, and you can read my thoughts for the others at these links: The Adversary, The Sentinel, The Herald.

The only two I have yet to read now are the first and fourth in the series. The Companions is also the 30th novel in the Legend of Drizzt; I have only read the first ten so far. The Reaver I will read soon.

Naturally, being a sequel to the previous Erevis Cales series, do expect spoilers if you have not read them. This book does work as a stand-alone, but I highly recommend reading the previous books beforehand.

“When the shadows descend,

In Hell-sworn covenant unswerving

The blighted brothers hunt,

And the godborn appears,

In rose-blessed abbey reared,

Arising to loose the godly spark.”

- Excerpt of a prophecy by Elliandreth of Orishaar

The prologue takes us to 1450 DR, Varra has been transported through time seventy years. She finds that her previously flat belly is now bulging with a presently due baby. She is found by warriors of Amaunator/Lathander who take her to the local abbey where her son, Vasen is born, destined to be a shadow in the light. I really enjoyed this prologue, and while not his best, Kemp is a master of drawing the reader in a dark and awesome world. 

Sembia is a protectorate of Netheril, and dark clouds cover the land, twisting and fouling it. Aberrations wander the shadowed land, tainted rain kills and twist crops and vegetation. People hold onto hope that one day the Sun will shine on the land again. Though not all hope is good, some of it is evil, and other nihilistic.

“A light in the darkness”

Zeeahd and Sayeed are an interesting duo introduced early on. They are brothers afflicted by the Spellplague and they search for the abbey where Vasen makes his home so they can be healed of their afflictions. Though of course there are other things about the two. There is a deva character, a kind of aasimar (like the one in Circle of Skulls, book six of Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep).

We also have Riven who was great to see again. It's been a hundred years, and he has lived with divinity all that time. He meets up with Mags early on, the tiefling mind mage who set up shop as a tavern owner in Derlun after the Spellplague. 

Brennus and Rivalen Tanthul also have an interesting dynamic, brothers; one semi-divine, the other full of hate for the murderer of his mother. I really enjoyed how this played out.

“He existed in the nexus of light and shadow, a creature of both, but a servant of only one.”

This has easily been the most disturbing D&D book I’ve read. Some parts were horrifying and disgusting, though thankfully this is only for a small section in the middle of the book. I'm also sort of a wimp, but it did affect my overall thoughts.

The Godborn is Exceptional, though this helped a lot by the last 50 pages.

I feel this could have been helped by being a trilogy instead of a single book slightly longer than average. There was in-fact supposed to be a trilogy, The Cycle of Night, but Wizards of the Coast axed it and we got The Godborn instead. From Cale’s first appearance in 2000 in The Halls if Stormweather to 2014 with The Godborn, this is finally the end of the dark tale. It’s sad, I can’t believe it’s over. This series alone has made reading Forgotten Realms novels worth it, we will see what other great novels are in store on this quest.

"Ages turn, the work changes, but there is always horror"

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You can track my current progress here.