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Monday, January 23, 2023

The Original Moonshaes and More Revealed!

Oloré!

In November of 2022 Ed Greenwood went onto the Lord Gosumba twitch channel to show off and chat Forgotten Realms maps spanning from 1969, shortly after its conception, to 1986 when it was acquired by TSR and sent to them in several pieces.


One of the highlights begins around the 49:30 mark: Greenwood’s original Moonshaes being shown for the very first time publicly. The last person beside Ed to see these was Jeff Grubb back in ‘86 or so. For those unaware, Douglas Niles was working on a a setting for the United Kingdom branch of TSR which needed up being scrapped. Since the Forgotten Realms was bought as a kitchen-sink setting, it was decided that Nile’s Druidic and fay islands would replace the original Hebrides inspired Moonshaes created by Ed. 

I recently read that Alex Kammer acquired the map that was put together at TSR in the late 80s, but that artifact has the later Moonshaes taped over the original.

We also see early maps of Waterdeep; Halruaa; The Lonesome Tankard in Eveningstar; Suzail; Serpent's Cowl (for the first time); Shadowdale; and more! Go enjoy this three hour video of Ed and his fountain of knowledge and experience. You may find it as glorious as I did. 

Amarast!

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Review: Honest and True by Troy Denning

Honest and True is a short story found in Dragon Magazine 245 from March 1998. It is a tie-in to Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad, also by Denning and released the month prior as the fifth and final volume in the Avatar Saga. The story follows Malik el Sami, Chosen of Cyric, as he still tries to do his god’s bidding shortly after the events of the novel. 

The story can be found from pages 57-64, with story artwork by Matt Wilson on page 56. 

The story is in first person like the novel, but we learn that Malik still has the truth spell put in him by Mystra. This leads to a great narration that is inaccurate to many but true to Malik’s view of the world. Such as calling the Harper’s “a band of meddling fools” and Deneir “the Prattler”. Like in The Sentinel, Malik is the Seraph of Lies, a special servant of Cyric’s.

He is in Waterdeep attempting to get his story published, which is of course proving difficult. This is exasperated when the Harper Ruha, the Bedine Witch, shows up. 

This story is very gripping and the perfect length. I enjoyed being back in a story from Malik’s point-of-view, and it makes an Exceptional short story for fans of book five.

I believe there is at least one more tie-in story to the Avatar Saga in Realms of Valor

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 9, 2023

2022 is Wrapped: Reading Update

In 2022 I only published four posts, a record low. I moved on the first of the year and being without my family for a few months was hard emotionally. I also stopped making videos at this time. While I got back into the habit of making videos, I somewhat forgot about this blog, the Forgotten Realms Lyceum.

So while I had a lackluster year posting, my hits have never been better. I have no clue what brings people to my blog, but apparently they come regardless if I’m updating it. Besides chronicling my experience reading through every Forgotten Realms story, I would also like to cultivate a healthy creative fan base for the Realms. Especially with how dismal lore is in present fifth edition material and the scarcity of novels. 

While I largely failed on the blog side, I did make some videos in the Forgotten Realms on YouTube. Here is the playlist, but I want to highlight a hours long chat with the creator of the Realms, Ed Greenwood, back in May!

As far as reading goes, out of the 295 (exact number could be wrong, will be easier to tell as I approach the end) novels, anthologies, and novellas to read, I read 17 this year. This means I have read 78 since I first read Brimstone Angels in 2017. I read 22 before starting this blog (having finished Downshadow earlier the same day), and so have read 56 since starting this blog. That means I’ve averaged about 18.6 each year since starting. I should hit above that, since my anniversary is not until March 7, but it’s easier to confine my years to that of the calendar: from Hammer to Nightal! At this rate it will take me more than a decade to finish, longer if they starting publishing more novels.

So for 2022 I read: 

7 books by Ed Greenwood

3 by Mel Odom

2 by Troy Denning

1 by Scott Ciencin

1 by James Lowder

1 by Lynn Abbey

1 by both Don Bassingthwaite and Dave Gross

1 by R.A. Salvatore 

So you do not have to go through my sheet, which is accessible at the bottom of each post, I read the follow books:

  • Tantras
  • Waterdeep
  • Prince of Lies
  • Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad
  • Cloak of Shadows
  • All Shadows Fled
  • The Best of the Realms II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood
  • The Temptation of Elminster
  • Spellfire
  • Crown of Fire
  • Hand of Fire
  • The Simbul’s Gift
  • Mistress of the Night
  • Rising Tide
  • Under Fallen Stars
  • The Sea Devil’s Eye
  • The Spine of the World

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 2, 2023

Completed Series: The Avatar Saga

The Avatar Saga (or Series) is five novels and written by three different authors. It was originally a trilogy published under the nom de plume of Richard Awlinson, but was later expanded upon. The original trilogy deals with the Time of Troubles in 1358 DR, and the next two finish out the cosmological changes over the next decade. For those unaware, the Time of Troubles deals with the gods being cast down to Faerun as mortals by the Overgod, Ao. This is key to the plot of the books.

I read Shadowdale in December of 2021, and did a standalone review of that, which can be read here. I finished the series in May of 2022. I have the original versions of each book, but they were later reprinted to match.

Shadowdale by Scott Ciencin (1989) - Mediocre

Tantras by Scott Ciencin (1989) - Acceptable

Waterdeep by Troy Denning (1989) - Good

Prince of Lies by James Lowder (1993) - Exceptional

Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad by Troy Denning (1998) - Exceptional

This review will have some larger Realms spoilers for the last two books, since they deal with decades old cosmological changes. Anyone familiar with 2e-5e Forgotten Realms will not be surprised by the status of certain gods. I will avoid these for the first three.

I ended up really enjoying this series. It is a little cheesy at times, and I knew some of the end going in, but each book was better than the last, which really impressed me.

Shadowdale starts with the events that would bring the Forgotten Realms from first edition to second edition. The Tablets of Fate have been stolen, and since no one steps forth as guilty, Lord Ao casts all gods down to Toril. They must walk in mortal avatar form, and are therefore vulnerable to die, permanently. The only god left with his divinity is Helm, who guards the way to the planes.

reprint cover

With the deities casting out, we first see Mystra, goddess of magic, try to access the Weave--from which all magic of the Art comes--and she fails. Then Bane, god of hate, terror, and tyrannical oppression, lands in Zhentil Keep and takes an avatar as he sets about his malevolent plan to reacquire the Tablets of Fate. We learn that it was him and Myrkul, God of Death who hid them in the first place.

Near the city of Arabel in Cormyr, the mage Midnight awakens to find things not as she left them, most notably she has a strange amulet around her neck. Her and three other heroes find themselves in the midst of the power struggle of the deities and their minions. 

One of the others is Kelemvor, a noble-born sellsword warrior also in Arabel during the events of the Arrival. He is a little moody and not much of a people person, but still honorable and pretty average in his temperament besides his glaring misogyny, which is kinda out of place in the Forgotten Realms. He is acquainted with Cyric as they recently went after the artifact The Ring of Winter. He is approached by a starving waif on the streets who seems to have a quest in a mind for him. 

Cyric is a thief turned mercenary. Honestly my favorite character, which is funny if you know what becomes of him. One thing I found really interesting was that Cyric was born in Zhentil Keep but was adopted by wealthy Sembians and lived there until he was a teenager.

Then we have Adon, a Cleric of Sune Firehair, goddess of Beauty. He is familiar with Cyric and Kelemvor as he was also used by Lady Lord Myrmeen Lhal, ruler of Arabel to bring down a conspiracy recently. Adon is certainly vain and a little arrogant and foolish.

We learn that the only magic that works in divine magic of clerics that are within a mile of their deity's avatar. Arcane magic is dangerous and inconsistent. We also get quite a number of vague descriptions of the gods and goddesses of the Realms. Those unfamiliar with the pantheon may be a bit lost.

There is a bit of romance sprinkled into this travel log. The group's goal is to go from Arabel to Shadowdale to meet with Elminster, the chosen of Mystra. Things escalate along the way and things become quite serious. 

This story is a little slow paced, but the overall descriptions and style of Ciencin makes for great imagery. This book does end on quite an unexpected cliffhanger.


Tantras
starts where book one ended. As the title tells us, this adventure leads the heroes to Tantras in The Vast. The city has become the holy seat of Torm, and no longer experiences a day/night cycle, for it is eternally bright. This story still has Bane as the main villain, but Cyric's and Kelemvor's paths start to diverge from their route in the first book, and head in directions that Realms fans may be more familiar with. Adon's arc is also very interesting, as it deals with the matter of faith. Midnight is the least interesting here, and it seemed as if Ciencin might have had a hard time writing a woman character.

There is great action here, including an explosive confrontation between two avatars. There is also a trial for two people falsely accused of murder. Some like that, and others do not. I thought it was well done. 

Waterdeep explodes where book two ended. This one takes our heroes from the Heartlands to the Sword Coast, to the City of Splendors, Waterdeep. This is the first novel in the series written by Troy Denning, which was. It also pushed the gods Bhaal, god of murder, and Myrkul into the forefront. These two, along with Bane, make up the trifecta known today as the Dead Three. 


This one really feels like the climax, and it originally was. We experience dead fortresses, undead, great and fell magic from Cormyr to Waterdeep. The cosmology shifts even more here, as dead gods are replaced with new ones. The character arcs are even better, as Denning handle's Midnight's character better. It was quite a ride and I look back on the experience of reading these exploits in the Time of Troubles fondly. 

Prince of Lies gets us into some cosmological spoilers. This story is set around Zhentil Keep and the writing of Cyric's holy text, the Cyrinishad. He has taken on the portfolios of murder, death, and strife with the demise of the Dead Three. We have Mystra (Midnight)  vying to stop Cyric from magically gaining worshippers. We also have characters, such as Fzoul Chembryl, who misses Bane. And the scribe Rinda is charged with writing the Cyrinishad. We also have the more tragic person of Gwydion, who becomes more important in the last book. As a fan of the Realms, I knew Kelemvor was not in his position of God of the Dead by the end of Waterdeep, this rectifies that.


Yet again this novel proved to be even better than the last. This was the first time I had read anything by Lowder, but I look forward to more of his Realms works.

Crucible: The Trial of Cyric the Mad deals with Mystra and Kelemvor seeking to once again prevent Cyric from finding the Cyrinishad. Adon's role as a priest is one very different from his earlier days in Shadowdale. What makes this story all the better is the point of view it is told to us. This story is from the intra-diegetic narrator of the Calimshite Malik el Sami, a worshipper of Cyric some readers may recognize from The Sentinel. This means everything is unreliable to a degree, though not inaccurate as far as the events go. Some do not like this narration, but I enjoyed it tremendously.

We also have the character Ruha from Denning's novels The Parched Sea and The Veiled Dragon. I have not read them yet, but fans of those may enjoy this sequel of sorts. It also explores even more places, like Candlekeep.


Overall we get quite a tour of the Realms, from Arabel, to Shadowdale, to Scardale, to The Vast, to High Horn, to Dragonspear, to Waterdeep, to Zhentil Keep, to Candlekeep. The vast array of characters is handled quite well by three authors and proves entertaining from the fist to last, making this an Exceptional reading experience.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, December 26, 2022

Light In Dark Times: New Forgotten Realms Novels That Aren't Drizzt!

Oloré! A few months ago we received some of the most exciting news for fans of Forgotten Realms novels in several years. Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves is a film set to release in March of 2023, and along with its release there will be accompanying media. The big two, maybe three, things that means for fans of the old novel line is this: there are two new novels coming!



Drizzt has still been getting regular installments the last several years, but 2016 marked the last year other authors had books published in the Forgotten Realms. Timeless in 2018 saw the first outside publishing, and 2022 saw the first Dragonlance novel in several years, but the thing that is in common with that release and Drizzt is that the publication is not done in-house. Hence why only the biggest names are getting published. It's quite a mess and leaves many fans of the old novel lines bemoaning the fate. 

We still had Dragon+ for the very rare fiction piece set in the Realms, but that was shut down in November, leaving the last short story being Ice Out from late 2020. Things look grim, but there is some light ahead.

Honor Among Thieves: The Druid's Call and Honor Among Thieves: The Road to Neverwinter are both prequel novels to the upcoming movie. The first is by Realms newcomer, E.K. Johnston, while the latter is from the seasoned Jaleigh Johnson (I've previously read Mistshore by her). Both are to be published by a third party and are accompanied with a movie novelization for younger audiences in February. Johnston's novel is blurbed as being "young adult" but there is no blurb describing Johnson's novel as such.

A webinar from Hasbro in early December mentioned Dungeons & Dragons being under-monetized, and Realms legend, Elaine Cunningham, suggested on Twitter that novels may be viable. I agree with her, maybe the readers' voice will be heard and more novels will come.

Amarast, reader.

Hemvar Crostiful

25 Nightal

Year of the Scroll

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, December 19, 2022

Genesis: The First Stories of the Forgotten Realms

Hail, and well met! Many know that Ed Greenwood created the Forgotten Realms several years before the creation of Dungeons & Dragons. It would become the premier setting for the game in 1987, but was introduced to readers of Dragon Magazine in the early 80s. We have previously reviewed the first D&D novel in Quag Keep, but we have not talked about the beginnings of the Forgotten Realms. 

According to Greenwood, by 1974 the Forgotten Realms already had sixteen published stories and a gazetteer, and that number was at twenty-two in 1975.

The first story ever penned by Greenwood was "One Comes, Unheralded, To Zirta", written in fragements in 1965 and finished in 1966, at the ripe young age of six. I made a whole video about this story on my YouTube channel, but to help you out here. It's a sword & sorcery tale about meetings of many famous Realms characters in a tavern in Zirta, south of Scornubel. Character's such as Mirt, Durnan, Alustriel and Storm, Elminster, and Filfaeril Obarskyr meet and make their first appearances. It's a really short yarn, one I heard about from the Jeff Grubb's foreword to Realms of Valor (1993). I later discovered it was later found and published in The Best of the Realms II: The Stories of Ed Greenwood (2005).

Recently, Greenwood listed some of these stories. Of the sixteen published before D&D's conception, he lists twelve, and ten of those have Mirt as the main character:

These were published in small magazines or chapbooks. I do not know the names of these small publications, but Greenwood did assure me there are copies still out there. Someday, I would deeply like to read them. The genesis of the Forgotten Realms is very important, as Greenwood took his influences, such as Sword & Sorcery fiction, and took part in mythopoeia to create one of fantasy's most lasting worlds.

Greenwood's List (Just in case Twitter explodes sometime in the future):
The Box of Dreams (1966)
Vultus Triumphant (1966)
Too Old a Wolf (1967)
The Bringer of Doom (1967)
Hazanth’s Trifling Error (1967) 
The Sword That Sang (1967) *
How Silent the Spectre (1968) *
How Vrackmulkyn Learned The Truth (1968) 
Mirt and the Dragon Inexorable (1969) 
Too Many Ghostly Knights (1969) 
The Last Mistake of Voroon Ouz (1969) 
Nine Swords Unaccounted For (1969) 

*Not a Mirt story

Hemvar Crostiful
18 Nightal
Year of the Scroll
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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Review: Elminster in Myth Drannor by Ed Greenwood

This is book two of the open-ended Elminster series by Ed Greenwood, published in 1997. The first book was Elminster: The Making of a Mage, you can read my review for that here.



Part 1, Human, it is the Year of the Chosen, 240 DR, when we meet young Elminster again. This is the same year the first book ended. He is waylaid by brigands on the Skuldask Road, so he is nearest Berdusk and a little farther from Elturel. At the time, the road cut through forest land. 


He needs to get to Cormanthor but he has to survive the way first. He is pursued by an unknown enemy with capable magic at his disposal. He does find a way that may make. Easier to enter the city, but it may just assure his death. Equipped with a an elven lore gem, a kiira, young El makes his way through the forest


A little slow it parts, it’s still a nice introduction but at the end of part one I was almost completely clueless on where the story would go next. Elminster shows his charm to the elves of Cormanthor, which helps him survive and in some ways thrive. The Srinshee is a character that appears at the end, and she was a little more eccentric than I was expecting. But this is Greenwood, I shouldn’t be so surprised. 


Part 2, Armathor, an elven word that refers to knighthood I believe. 


You may have realized I kept on referring to the city as Cormanthor, which was its name before the mythal was raised, and it became Myth Drannor. The history of this event had already been well established when this book released and the back of the book even mentions it. We get to experience the history first hand in the story.


Mythanthar, an elf who thinks he can emulate magical barriers elves have around their persons to cover the whole city is ridiculed by most at court. Mythal’s have existed before this one and I believe the elves of Cormanthor at this time mostly think them fanciful. 


There are epigraphs from two in world books:  The High History of Faerûnian Archmages Mighty,  written by Antarn the Sage and published in 1366 DR and Silver Blades and Summer Nights: An Informal but true History of Cormanthor, written by Shalheira Talandren, High Elven bard of Summerstar and published in the Year of the Harp (I couldn’t find what year that was in Dalereckoning)


In Greenwood Forgotten Realms fashion many people don’t have a care for their state of undress. You’ll also see plenty of mage battles and even learn how to sexually please an elf; yep.


Elves are just as, or maybe more stubborn and arrogant than humans, but it’s nice seeing them so upset about the elves leaving their Spring in Faerun. 


The way elven undead work is always fun. Baelnorn’s are a type of lich but good and generally acting as guardians of something. 


If you want references to things mentioned nowhere else, Greenwood is great for that and this book is no different.


House Dlardrageth is mentioned here, I believe they are a main focus of the Last Mythal series. And apparently Drannor was the name of a Cormanthyrn elf who married a dwarf. 


Anyway the story takes turns I wasn’t expecting. Elminster doesn’t always come out on top, and as expected he doesn’t have it easy regardless.


The Masked, Nacacia and the Lady Herald along with Eltagrim, Mythanthar, and the Srinshee were all interesting and fun characters that I’d even consider putting into my own dungeons and dragons games.


The story ends in 261 DR, 20 years after it begins. There are a few time jumps at the end that bring us to that time by the conclusion. I know the next Elminster book takes place centuries later. 

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You can track my current progress here.