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Monday, September 25, 2023

Review: Law & Order by Dave Gross

 Law & Order is another tie-in to the Baldur's Gate games. This one is specifically about the early years of Rasaad yn Bashir in Calimport. I have previously reviewed Baldur's Gate short stories, I link them all here. Read this story on page 188-202 here.

The story is divided into two parts, Fishing and The Path to Light. Rasaad and his brother Gamaz are fishing, which is their euphemism for being pickpockets. They want gold fish, but also will take copper and silver, it's cheeky. After a close encounter with a Sharan, the brothers decide to team up to fill their empty stomachs. They then encounter a Sun Soul monk, a man from out of town. Rasaad is only eight years old, but his quick hands make him good at his job. On the other hand, he can't lie any more than a dwarf could pass for a gnome. 

Part two continues the story, so I will be vague. Rasaad is now fifteen years old. This continues the brother's lessons and their camaraderie increases. I read this on a rainy day and it seemed perfect for me. It is an Exceptional story if a simple one. 


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Review: Sandstorm by Christopher Rowe

Sandstorm is one of those odd standalone novels not incorporated into a series like Lost Empires or Ed Greenwood Presents Waterdeep. It was released in 2011 and was Christopher Rowe's first novel. I actually have chatted with Rowe briefly online, and realizing he had written a Realms novel pushed this one up my list.

This is the Fourth Edition of Forgotten Realms, so it's weird. That doesn't count it out as a good time, I enjoyed Brimstone Angels and Venom in Her Veins, and those are also during the Era of Upheaval. This one takes place in Calimshan, and fans of the desert kingdom south of Tethyr and Amn and across the water from Chult may want to give it a whirl.

Calimport is way less glorious after the Spellplague, though it was always tainted by its slave trade. Slavery is one theme of this book, and we are introduced to gladiatorial games on an earthmote, that is a floating piece of earth. It starts with a bang, a duel between a gladiator and a great tentacled cat. You often don't get covers showcasing events from the start of the book, but this is an exception. It's also notable because Raymond Swanland makes such good art.

Along with this cover, it has a sword & sorcery feel at the start. The magic is also less gamey and feels tad more authentic than in some other Realms novels.

Cephas is a gladiator slave on the earthmote. He seemingly tries to escape from just about every bout he is in; though he is a good fighter he longs for freedom. He has some innate connection to the earth and this relationship is explained once he goes on his journey.

Corvus Nightfeather is a Kenku assassin and a carnie of sorts for the Circus of Wonders. He is not the main character but stands out as unique and as my favorite. Along with a Kenku, you also get some other races that have populated D&D for the last decade or more. Things like Goliaths and Genasi, the latter being integral to the story. The story explores Genasi having two or more elemental aspects regardless of their birth element. For example, can air Genasi also acquire the fire aspect? This ties into a theme of identity and family, particularly the found family trope.

Lastly, Rowe makes good use of epigraphs from in-world texts. I am a big fan of this method, and seeing it in the Forgotten Realms is very fun. That being said, I did not enjoy this one too much, but I feel I could have put more effort into reading it. I think I will reread it at some point, it is very short. As of now, I'll give my arbitrary rating of Acceptable.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, September 11, 2023

Pages Behind the Pixels: Baldur's Gate and the Accompanying Fiction

 Baldur's Gate is a popular series of video games produced by BioWare. The first released in 1998 and was followed by a sequel, Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn in 2000. A spin-off series, Baldur's Gate Dark Alliance followed in 2001 with a sequel in 2004. The latter were produced by Snowblind Studios and Black Isle Studios, respectively. Many years later, in 2023, Larian would produced Baldur's Gate III to critical acclaim.

These games brought to life the Forgotten Realms in ways previously tapped into by games like the old Gold Box series or The Eye of the Beholder series. I will talk about those in different articles, but today I want to make people aware of the fiction that ties into the Baldur's Gate series of games. This is for fans both old and new!

Baldur's Gate was novelized the year following its release. This novelization was done by Philip Athans, and Baldur's Gate II got a similar treatment. There was even a third novel for the second game's expansion, Throne of Bhaal written by Drew Karpyshyn. 

Sadly, the novel line was ended in several years ago, so beyond the occasional release of a Drizzt novel or the movie tie-in, we don't get any novels. Many fans believe a tie-in to the new game would make a lot of sense, too bad we don't have any sway at Wizards of the Coast.

However, there is more than just these three novels. While Dark Alliance never got blessed with any fiction, there are a number of short stories that deal tangentially with the story of the Baldur's Gate games. These are as follows: 

"Final Exam" by Dave Gross (read on page 317 here)

"Unburdened" by Dave Gross (read it here)

"Best Friends" by Dave Gross (read on page 324 here)

"Rancor" by Dave Gross (read on page 89 here)

"Law and Order" by Dave Gross (read on page 188 here)

(These next three specifically tie into the first game's expansion, Siege of Dragonspear)

"Amulet Fellow and the Regal Rose/Glint's Story" by Andrew Foley (read on page 17 here)

"Den of Chaos" by Amber Scott (read here)

"Dangerous World" by Andrew Foley (read here)


You can track my current progress here.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Remembering Those Passed

 In the Realms, when you die you go to the realm of your chiefest deity. Such realms range from terrible to awesome. If you are not claimed by one you are then accepted into the Realm of the Dead by its Lord. This position has changed several times, from Jergal to Myrkul to Cyric to Kelemvor. Thankfully this last has the most peaceful version of the realm. In real life there are many places people do and do not believe in. I won’t get into that today, but it’s pertinent.

I wanted to make a special post today to remember those fallen. However it happens, it’s a circumstance of life. We all die. There are plenty people that large swaths remember, the likes of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson spring to mind as the creators of Dungeons & Dragons. I also think of Ed Greenwood’s late wife, Jenny. But there are those more close to home, family, friends. I am young and have not experienced much death in the family. As far as D&D is concerned and the reason for this publication date, is my friend, Wes. 

Wes was a fantastic Dungeon Master, and a similarly great player when I DMed. He even played a character I made, Daoine “Dao” of the Forest of Shadows (from the Cleric Quintet). I have generally played TTRPGs with my brothers, but a group I was a part of while living in Colorado (2020-2021) had Saturday set aside to play. Well after I moved, a year ago today, Wes passed away after a serious car accident. 

While I miss him and his congenial nature and his happy attitude, I am grateful for the memories. I cannot think of anything negative associated with him. It was grand adventures, good food and copious snacks. We travelled through the Underdark, fought cultists in Neverwinter, traversed the plains, had WWE style matches with giants, and experienced so much that was “not natural”(an inside joke, stay with me). 

The first Day of Might, October 2021, we appropriately played Dungeons & Dragons. We lit our red candles, drank root beer, and I even brought gifts of sword and sorcery books for my pals (Howard’s Conan and Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, for those curious). 

I’ve had characters die, and I’m grateful for the time I had with them. I’m even more grateful for friends like Wes, taken far too young. But he’ll live on as himself and the multiple hours of fun he was a part of. My latest 5e character is named “Wes of the Mattock” and is a Rashemi version of Montana born Wes. Maybe one day we’ll roll some new characters together, in the meantime I’ll roll more with him in mind. 

Anerriphto kubos, friends.

Monday, September 4, 2023

Review: Realms of the Deep

Realms of the Deep is the accompanying anthology to the Threat from the Sea trilogy by Mel Odom. It was only the fourth anthology I have read on my quest so far, the others being The Halls of Stormweather, Realms of War, and The Best of the Realms II. This concludes the fiction content for the Realms event, the only other piece being the short story not included here: "Dark Legacy".

Released in 2000 and edited by Philip Athans, the anthology contains twelve stories about the Twelfth Seros War that went from the Sea of Swords to the Sea of Fallen Stars.

"Our Choices" by Lynn Abbey takes place on the 19th of Ches in the Year of the Gauntlet. The story is about sea elves who are new refugees in service to a Triton king. A beacon has just been destroyed by the Sahuagin. Turns out one of these sea elves is a malenti, a Sahuagin that looks like a sea elf, just like Laaqueel in the trilogy. This is a story of fate, similar to something like "Before the Firing Squad" by John Chioles. It is a rare Lynn Abbey Realms story that you should appreciate while it lasts.

"Fire is Fire" is by Elaine Cunningham and takes place on the 30th of Ches of the same year. A wizard associated with Khelben Blackstaff is the main character and his parts are told in first person. This is a young and arrogant wizard tutored by the Archmage. He seeks glory in the attack on Waterdeep by the Sahuagin, the battle that commenced in the first story. There is also another character. A first-person account of a Sahuagin. It was odd switching to another POV in the first person in the same story. The idea of fire is fire brings about respect and a great comparison to the Sahuagin mantra of “meat is meat” we hear often in the trilogy. Cunningham definitely has talent.

"Messenger to Seros" by Peter Archer takes place on the 10th of Tarsahk; once again in the same year. Thraksos needs to find a way to Seros to warn the good sea peoples in the Inner Sea of the battle at Waterdeep. Not much to comment on here.

"The Place Where Guards Sleep at their Post" by Ed Greenwood takes place on the 9th of Kythorn. This is a cheeky story set around Mintarn. We have bits from Brandor, a black buckle apprentice mage. This is a fantastic ending involving burning oysters in the barrel. This one also appears in The Best of the Realms II

"Lost Cause" by Richard Lee Byers is set on the 17th of Kythorn. Told in the first-person, our main character is ex-military. His name is Sergeant Kendrack. This is a battle sequence that is really immersive, with great imagery, unique voices for the soldiers and raw human emotion. It has redemption and pride. Hylas and Aquinder with Kendrack make a great cast. This takes place at Port Llast and the foes are actually crabmen allied with the Sahuagin, which is also a nice change of pace. 

"Forged in Fire" by Clayton Emery takes place on the 22nd of Kythorn. This is a story about pirates, it starts in medias res as pirates are boarding a merchant vessel. This seems to be set in the sea near Calimshan. This time we need enemies to work together, and Emery makes sure we know there are plenty of female pirates. 

"One Who Swims with Sekolah" by Mel Odom is set on the 4th of Flamerule. This seems to be the longest in the anthology, and it being from the man largely behind the Threat From the Sea or Twelfth Seros War, it makes sense. This describes the breaking of the Sharksbane Wall that occurs later in the trilogy. It follows Laaqueel in her service to Iakhovas so those who have read the trilogy will probably like this addition even if they don’t want to read the rest of the stories. 

"The Crystal Reef" by Troy Denning is set on the 8th of Flamerule. On a small island west of Tharsult there lies a crystal wreath protected by a couple giants on a small island. The story is kicked into motion because a fleet of ships is suddenly anchored off the reef. This is a story of sacrifice, and it is a little sad. 

"The Patrol" by Larry Hobbs takes place on the 10th of Flamerule. A watchman in the port city of Cimbar is our protagonist. He is the third son of a noble known as a hero. He is in a scuffle in the streets and ends up getting berated by his superior. It is fine but I feel I’ve read it before.

"The Star of Tethyr" by Thomas M. Reid is next. This one is about the new flagship of the Tethyr fleet, though it doesn’t take place on it said ship. Our main character is a young sailor and it’s about his chance to aid the ship when the Sahuagin attack.

"Persana’s Blade" by Steven E. Schend is the penultimate story.  A young triton is involved in a morkoth attack and must protect his little sister. 

"And the Dark Tide Rises" by Keith Francis Strohm takes place in Mourktar with an outsider youth being our protagonist. I found it a little tedious since it was the fourth story in a row about a young man. It’s not bad though, it’s an enchanting tale of the sea and belonging. 

This was my first time reading by Archer, Hobbs and Strohm. The rest are all veterans of the Realms I’ve read in novels or short stories. Overall, I enjoyed my time and I look forward to getting into more of the "Realms of" anthologies. This is a Good one.


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Review: Dark Legacy by Mel Odom

I recently reviewed the entire Threat from the Sea trilogy by Mel Odom. What you, lucky reader, may not have realized is that there are more stories to read about this big Realms event. The first released was this short story, found in Dragon Magazine issue 255. The other is the anthology Realms of the Deep, which I will be reviewing soon.

story art by David Kooharian

In January 1999, the same month book one, Rising Tide, was released, we got a short story introducing the conflict. It can be found on pages 66-77. The story starts on the 22 Ches (actually misspelled as Chess in the article) 1355 DR. That means it is early Spring, essentially late March, and it is one year after the prologue of Rising Tide

Narros is woken by his wife, Klyss. They are merfolk of Laakos' Reef, forty miles east of Calimport. He says a prayer to Eadro before grabbing his trident and checking on the disturbance that woke them. Narros is the chief priest of the village and safeguards the temple that has housed an artifact for thounsands ofyears. He feels the disturbed currents coming from the passage that connects his reef home to the temple.

Narros and Klyss have two adult sons, and they take their charge of keeping the artifact very seriously. The old priest, Kallos, was fearful of what would happen if the artifact was removed. This artifact is the Taker's Circlet. When trouble arrives they go to Harric, their chieftain, for aid. Another character is the wealthy Revek who sells fish to surface dwellers, wears robes (most go naked) and has furniture.

We learn the locathah also revere Eadro, though in a different manner. We don't have them present, but they are mentioned. We do get a look at a pirate vessel, The Wayfarer captained by Kenson.

This story is immediately gripping. Not many of these short stories in Dragon are, but I found this was a very fast and interesting read. Overall, it is Good.

The story has a brief section on the 26th and another on the 29th of the month of Ches too. It is a satisfying end that connects well with the rest of the trilogy, introducing a people and place I would like to revisit someday. 


You can track my current progress here.

Monday, August 14, 2023

The Unimpressive Fictional Legacy of Dragon+

 Dragon Magazine from its start was a magazine of variety. At its inception this included fiction. The first issue even he part 1 of 6 of the novella “The Gnome Cache” by Garrison Ernst, a pen name for Gary Gygax. Other famous writers would even appear in the early pages, Harry Otto Fischer, Fritz Leiber, Andre Norton, Fletcher Pratt, L. Sprague de Camp, and Gardner Fox worth noting.

Dragon+ was a short lived, mediocre, sequel. Only half the heart was put into it, and there is no excuse because it was digital only—the last 71 issues of Dragon were also digital only. After six years of digital only content, the magazine was sunsetted in December 2013. 

But like a Phoenix it survived. In April 2015 Dragon+ was born as a successor to both Dragon and Dungeon magazines. While this gave hope for free content compatible for your fifth editions table, it was a sickly Phoenix. Issues came out bimonthly, making six a year. It lasted 7 years itself, the 41st and last issue releasing in March/April 2022 before being quietly shut down in July.

I failed to cover this when it happened, as my blog was on hiatus. I can’t say I know how the business was ran, but I feel there was much more fiction that could have been. Dragon+ was a wan light when the novel line ended. In 14 issues fiction appeared, all being somewhat connected to the Forgotten Realms as the flagship setting of the current product. The last piece came in October 2020 when “Ice Out” was released as a tie-in to Rime of the Frostmaiden. 

Apparently it tied into Candlekeep Mysteries too, and beyond that there has been very little attention given to the Realms from the sorcerers who live on the shore. 

While the recent movie tie-ins provide some light, the novel lines death accompanied with the death of short fiction in Dragon magazine marks a disdapointingdissapointing state. While fiction did decrease after the 1990s in Dragon Magazine, the venue still saw the likes of George R. R. Martin and others. When I think of Dragon’s legacy I can see much worthwhile fiction in the thousands of pages. I can’t say I see the same in Dragon+. 

I did see Ed Greenwood was part of a Spin a Yarn panel at GenCon and I had hoped it would be set in the Realms. Alas, even that hope was futile. We’ll see what happens from here.


You can track my current progress here.