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Monday, December 27, 2021

Review: Shadowdale by Scott Ciencin

Shadowdale is the first of the Avatar Series, what was originally a trilogy but later expanded to five books. It was written by Scott Ciencin though originally published under the pen name Richard Awlinson. There is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Module of the same name that corresponds with the events of the book. 

This review has  corresponding video which you can watch here.

Original cover

The story starts with the gods and goddesses of the Forgotten Realms gathered together by Lord Ao. They are the target of his wrath for some of them have stolen the tablets of Fate. As a result, the Avatar crisis ensues as the gods are cut off from their realms and godhood, so prayers and magic go unanswered and become unreliable, while the gods are made to walk the planet Toril in mortal avatar form. The only one not cast down is Helm, God of Guardians. 

The year is 1358 DR and so begins the Time of Troubles, also called the Arrival, the Godswar, and the Avatar Crisis. This is also the beginning of the Era of Upheavel which will end over 100 years later with the Second Sundering. 

With the deities casting out, we first see Mystra, goddess of magic, try to access the Weave, yet deification form at 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 and avatar as he sets about his malevolent plan to acquire the Tablets of Fate. 

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 3 other heroes find themselves im the midst of the power struggle of the deities and their minions. 

One of the others is Kelemvor a 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. 

Reprint cover

 Cyric is a thief turned mercenary. Honestly my favorite character, which is funny if you know what becomes of him.

Then we have Adon, à 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. Adon is certainly vain and a little arrogant and foolish. 

I found Ciencin’s descriptions of simple character actions to be written perfectly, where I was getting imagery for mundane things I often don’t get while reading. The characters all decently explored too, for example finding out more about Kelemvor’s past, and how his curse really harms his temperament.

The pacing is a little slow, for example chapter 6 is somewhat dreamlike and dragging. Chapter 7 fixes this.

There are a decent amount of deities talked about with only the most basic of descriptions, so those unfamiliar with the pantheon  be lost with the mention of gods and goddesses. 

Divine magic only works for clerics within a mile of their deities avatars, while arcane magic that normally comes from Mystra, Goddess of Magic and her weave is terrible inconsistent and dangerous to use. 

The gods most at play here are Mystra, Bane, Helm, and Myrkul Lord of the Dead. This conflict really gets heated about the halfway point and that made the book finally hold more of my attention. 

As the back of the book states, the party wants to eventually get to Elminster in Shadowdale, hence the title of the book. Those two things had me thinking a majority of the book in Shadowdale, but only the last bit actually is. The party goes from Arabel to Castle Kilgrave, to Tilverton, to Shadow Gap, to Spiderhaunt Woods before reaching the titular place.

There is a romantic relationship I didn’t really care for as one of the people in the relationship wasn’t really a good prospect. 

The story does end with a cliffhanger that left me saying what the heck. Overall it’s Good, though maybe barely so. I have not been itching too bad to get to the next book, but I am looking forward to how the story develops.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Review: The Silent Blade by R.A. Salvatore

The Silent Blade is a 1998 novel by RA Salvatore and Book eleven in the Legend of Drizzt and book one in the Path of Darkness series. This of course takes place in the world of Forgotten Realms.it takes place in the year 1364 of Dale Reckoning, for those curious that’s about 130 years before the present fifth edition timeline. 




This will of course have some spoilers for the first ten books, beware. Read my thoughts on The Dark Elf Trilogy (books 1-3), The Icewind Dale Trilogy (books 4-6), and Legacy of the Drow (books 7-10). This review also has a video counterpart that can be watched here: https://youtu.be/W-1MnGOCzHM


It was nice having The Companions of the Hall back together even if their reunion in Passage to Dawn was lackluster. They of course start off at Icewind Dale and are leaving to bring Crenshinibon, the evil magical artificer commonly called The Crystal Shard, the south to Erlkazar to Spirit Soaring, temple to Deneir, in the mountains


Wulfgar is suffering, tormented by thoughts of Errtu in his nightmares. He’s no longer empathetic and his friends try to get him to feel again.


Entreri is back, he thankfully wasn’t present in the previous book, and I’m still of the opinion he should have died several books ago, but I digress. Entreri has returned to Calimport thousands of leagues to the south of Ten Towns in Icewind Dale, the furthest part of the Sword Coast still on it. These storylines. Initially don’t seem connected, besides the characters past connections. They do start connecting about half way through.


Part one sets up the Compnions storyline and Entreri’s, and honestly there was little combat in part one, and it was hardly drawn out 8 was really enjoying this, reminded me of the earlier Drizzt books. Wulfgars torment is deep, and it seems even friends or the old thrill of battle won’t dissipate his demons.


Part two brings Wulfgar more to the forefront, and his second encounter with a tribe of Uthgardt, the Sky Ponies, last seen in Streams of Silver was a greater view of the Companions past but also a larger view of the Forgotten Realms I often feel Salvatore misses in his works, seemingly forgetting them.


Jaraxle does make an appearance as well, a welcome one with his typical bravado and his webs of intrigue. Of the drow of Menzoberranzan, he is by far the most nuanced and interesting to read about. Though admittedly the guilds in Calimport sort of play the part of the warring houses of the drow city in this book. I much preferred this than the destructive and chaotic drow house wars which were a huge chunk of their society while the guild wars are just a piece. 


Cadderly is mentioned several times, but doesn’t actually make an appearance here. While he does appear briefly in Passage to Dawn, for those unaware, Salvatore wrote The Cleric Quintet that introduces the priest of Deneir and his friends.


This book also amps up the sexual content, but not in a gross amount. It felt more  adult rather than the juvenile feeling lots of the other Drizzt books had. 


I finished Pssage to Dawn all the way back in August of 2020, I needed a big break from Drizzt and that break helped a lot. I enjoyed this one throughly though my pace wasn’t the best. I’d say it’s Exceptional, considering how the other Drizzt books have gone.

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You can track my current progress here.

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.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Summer Haul: Forgotten Realms and Other Settings

A sweet evening breeze cools the Flamerule heat lingering from the day's shining. Eldath blessed serenity fills a grove home to an ancient storyteller, wrinkled with age and wisdom. She shares tales of times long past, of worlds now forgotten. She invites you to sit with her and get lost in the timeless fables.

Oloré! Since I have not done a haul since February I thought I would share some of my recent acquisitions pertaining to Dungeons & Dragons fiction.

Pertatining to my recent review of Elminseter: The Making of a Mage, I was able to get my hand on The Annotated Elminster which is an omnibus of the first three novels in the series with added with sections about the writing of the story and specific Realms Lore pertinent to each story after the respective section. I believe the paperback Elminster Ascending has the same content, but I am not 100% sure as I don't yet have a copy.


After finishing the first book in the Elminster series I got my hands on The Best of the Realms II, an anthology of stories by Ed Greenwood. One story in particular is from the point of view of a young Elminster before the events of the first book. I'm hoping to get to this one soonish.
 

Untold Adventures is an anthology I originally thought was available digitally only. I have reviewed all stories found in it from the Forgotten Realms, but there more stories from other D&D settings. This copy is in pristine shape.


This next book is not completely a Forgotten Realms novel, but it is close. Into the Void, while a Spelljammer novel, takes place on the mysterious island of Nimbral. Because of this, it even has the Forgotten Realms logo on the back.

As you may have noticed, I recently read the first of the Dragonlance Chronicles, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (thoughts here). I found the sequel, Dragons of Winter Night, at my local bookstore and grabbed it for a measly $2.

My first Eberron novels are Storm Dragon and Dragon Forge, respectively the first and second books in the Draconic Prophecies trilogy. I grabbed both in a bundle for $4 on eBay. I heard these are good, and I'm interested to explore the world of Eberron for the first time.


Similarly, the Penhaligon Trilogy is the first series to be released for the campaign setting of Mystara, which was the default setting for Basic D&D back in the 80s and 90s. These mass market paperbacks are surprisingly really nice, with colored illustrations and maps in all three.


Dark Sun has been a setting I have been fascinated with for a couple years, in fact a good portion of my homebrew world is heavily inspired by it. That being said, while I have some official game supplements, I have never played in it or read anything in it. I will change that with the first book in the Prism Pentad, The Verdant Passage. I found it at my local Goodwill.


As published a few days ago, I recently read the first book in the Gord the Rogue series. Along with the first book, I also purchased the six sequels. You may notice that only two have the Greyhawk Adventures logo, this is because Gary Gygax left TSR in 1986 and was able to retain the rights to Gord while losing the rights to the World of Greyhawk. The later stories are essentially in the same world, just proper nouns are changed for legal reasons.


To accompany the above series, Gord appears in two short stories in Dragon Magazine issues 100 and 344, the former being the first ever piece of fiction featuring the thief from Greyhawk, while the latter being the last new piece of fiction before Gygax's passing in 2008.


Have you received anything of interest late, be it game supplements, magazines, novels, or other ttrpg material? Thanks for reading, amarast, and until next time!

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You can track my current progress here.


Friday, July 16, 2021

Saga of Old City - My First Experience with Greyhawk

Saga of Old City was the first official novel for the Greyhawk setting. Other works, such as Quag Keep, had been set in an early version of the Greyhawk world. Gary Gygax, who created the World of Greyhawk and wrote Saga of Old City, decided to write the Gord the Rogue novels, of which Saga of Old City is the first, after the success of Weis and Hickman’s Dragonlance books showcasing the Dragonlance setting. 

Original cover by Clyde Caldwell
Young Gord the Gutless is our protagonist. He is poor and well established in pauperhood when we meet him. He has two coins, and they are not even copper, just iron. The start is reminiscent of other tales I’ve read of young orphans that steal and live in the streets, barely surviving and not even truly living. I was surprised how much Gygax’s prose was actually fine, I was expecting worse. 

From the streets, to jail, to the hands of the Beggarmaster, Gord goes swiftly. From the first page you know this is not a kids book. Dragonlance was pretty gentle, and maybe could pass for younger audiences, though it was definitely adult as well, comparatively Saga of Old City is gruesome and harsh; though not gross or disturbing. It’s definitely a coming of age to start, rather than a grand epic.

While I found Dragonlance more epic than your average Forgotten Realms tale, The World of Grehawk is less epic. It is essentially a Sword & Sorcery setting. It's rather low in fantasy, and full of decaying civilization of humanity. One example I think illustrates
this well is that the Thieves Guild of Greyhawk is a legal venture, assuming no one gets caught and pays the tithe from stolen coin and goods to the City Council.

Gord’s coming of age somewhat reminds me of Elminster’s, though it’s really just reminiscent of the trope in general. Chapters often skip a few years and shortly we have a young adult Gord getting into trouble. Don't worry, more than half of the story Gord is an adult.

It was great fun getting to explore a little of the Flanaess, basically the Faerûn equivalent being a portion of the continent of Oerik. We experience the world through the eyes of Gord who is seeing the places for the first time. Our character Gord is exactly as described: a rogue. He’s a thief, though not really evil, he serves himself. The plot kind of follows this random going-ons of his life, which is to say its all over the place.

The rogues in this are awesome, and I particularly love their impersonation skills. It’s nice because they just need to execute the act extremely well, and don’t need to bypass a ton of magic as there is low amounts of magic and even lowish amounts of people not human. 

2008 republished version

We do have some other characters in this, my favorites being Chert and Gellor. And while relative a story of human affairs, we do see a sea serpent, a demon, and a wolfwere.

When a large group fight breaks out near the end of the book, you really can see Gygax’s wargaming experience come through in stratagem and all the particular names for weapons of all sorts, along with the specific types of armor being worn. 

Overall, this is such a fun adventure of one small thief from Old City. The story is often told in such a way that the narrator tells of the next leg of the journey at the start of a chapter before then describing how Gord got there, and then continuing with what came after he was in the predicament. It is also extremely 1e AD&D with thief ranks, bards and what not. 

“A bard has something to do with druidical studies?” 

The last couple chapters really bring the story full circle and it ends very nicely. While the plot is kind of a mystery with this novel, I do believe some things seen here will show up for the rest of the series of Gord the Rogue. It was a fun ride, and I’d recommend just going with it, let Gord take you on the adventures of his young life. There are six more books after this one and I do plan on reading them all at some point.

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, July 12, 2021

Review: Realms of War

 Realms of War is an anthology edited by Philip Athans and released in early 2008. It accompanied the Twilight War trilogy by Paul S. Kemp that I recently finished (review here), and fell in-between the releases of the second and third books. This is only my second anthology set in the Forgotten Realms that I have read, the first being The Halls of Stormweather that introduced the Sembia series (review here). Like many "Realms of ..." anthologies, this one focuses on wars of Faerûn, spanning millennia of conflict.


"Continuum" by Paul S. Kemp

Our first story is about Rivalen Tanthul, Prince of Shade Enclave. It starts off in -365 DR, in the beautiful woods of Arnothoi, the lands that will one day become Sembia. He is in a meadow with his mother, whom he plans to murder to complete his devotion to the Goddess of Darkness, Shar. The story jumps to 1374 DR, during the events of the trilogy. We see more of Rivalen, as well as his brother Brennus. We also see some of Varra, Erevis Cale’s lover. This was a nice story that showed some things not explained beyond a sentence or two in the novels. We also get Rivalen’s thoughts on Elyril. Like most things from Kemp in the Realms, this story is Exceptional. You could read this in between Shadowstorm and Shadowrealm.

“Weasel’s Run” by Lisa Smedman

We meet Weasel, a spriggan trapped by a Ghostwise halfling cleric of Malar the Beastlord for the High Hunt. We discover he is a scout for the armies of Luiren, and we get to see some of his early days in this position in a flashback to -68 DR, while the rest of the story takes place in -65 DR. This is during the Hin Ghostwars in Lluirwood. It’s interesting as these Ghostwise halflings still speak, and it’s only after the war is over and they’ve moved to Chondalwood that they take their silent ways we know of in the modern Realms. We see some creatures I honestly haven’t ever experienced playing at the table or in my reading. This story is Exceptional.

“The Last Paladin of Ilmater” by Susan J. Morris

We find ourselves in 902 DR at the Chondalwood. Jaeriko, a druid, is our POV as she follows Maze, an assassin in service of the city-state of Reth during the Rotting War. This civil war split Chondath into loosely allied city-states and allowed their Sembian colonies, Chondathan and Chauncelgaunt, to gain independence. The duo face undead raised by the necromantic general of Arrabar, a fallen adherent of Ilmater, god of suffering. This is an interesting tale, somewhat disturbing, with an intriguing ending: overall it is Good.

“Black Arrow” by Bruce R. Cordell

Spring of 1095 DR in Sarshel, a port city of Impiltur, a kingdom of the Easting Reach. The story begins with a letter of condolences to a Madame Feor about the death of her son Jotharam. This letter is from Imphras Heltharn, who in a few short years will become the first king Impiltur has had in 100 years. We then start our story following a young Jotharam. This sense of doom hangs over you as you read of the naive young man and his dreams of grandeur as a warrior defending the walls of Sarshel. A surprise attack from a goblinoid army sends people scrambling. This was super fun for me, I’m a big fan of Triad worshipping Impiltur but had actually yet to read any fiction set there before this. I had chills and tears come to my eyes, I was honestly really surprised. This reminded me of some of the memorable prologues from Jordan’s Wheel of Time. This short tale is nothing short of Amazing

“Too Many Princes” by Ed Greenwood 

A tale of Mirt the Moneylender, during his time as mercenary when he had the moniker “the Merciless”. The year is 1333 DR, and Amn is in a war of succession. Mirt is in Ombreir, a citadel of the Araunvols. A wicked vizier means to trap Mirt and others: it was fun to read how he saves their skins, though one of the Seven Sisters does most of the work. A Good story from Mr. Greenwood, unsurprisingly.

“The Siege of Zerith Hold”  by Jess Lebow

Goblins from the High Peaks and Kuldin Peaks threaten Erlkazar. Zerith Hold in Duhlnarim (the home of Atreus from Faces of Deception) holds fast against the onslaught as the crusaders wait for help from Korox. The year is 1358 DR, the Goblin Wars rage in the newly Independent country. Our characters are Jivam Tammsel, a half-elf, half-steel dragon ranger, and Lord Pudrun who leads the efforts at Zerith. This is the same country the Cleric Quintet takes place in for the most part (though Salvatore seems to have forgotten that), if you want more stories in this country, Lebow also wrote the novel Obsidian Ridge, which takes place in Erlkazar less than a decade after these events. Valon is incorrectly refferred to as a Baron rather than Duke before coming King. Beyond this, this short tale was a nice opening course and I want more. It is Good.

“Mercy’s Reward” by Mark Sehestedt

Gethred is someone in or near Rashemen, though he is not a rashemi, he seems to be running from Tuigan. The year is 1359 DR, an these events can be further explored in the Empires Trilogy. Persistent pursuing enemies abound, shape changers face off, this is one wild ride. It’s a decent, Good tale.

“Redemption” by Elaine Cunningham 

Ferret, an elf of the Wealdath in Tethyr during the Reclamation War, puts her people first in 1368 DR. The transition from one character to the next at the beginning of this tale was so expertly done I was hooked. We see Cunningham‘a famous characters Danilo, Elaith, and Arilyn. Oddly enough there is also a lythari in this tale, just as there were in the last. We learn some of Myth Rhynn and Mallin, a lich. This is a Good story, though I still need to read the novels involving these characters.

“Changing Tides “ by Mel Odom

Rytagir Volak was an explorer on the Sea of Fallen Stars in the year 1369 DR. A lover of the sea, he is in search of the shipwreck for Peilam’s Nose. A bargain with sea elves is made, something I wasn’t quite expecting but was realistic and fun to read. A fun introduction to the Threat From the Sea series by Odom, and the Twelfth Serôs War. A Good tale in Odom fashion.

“Chase the Dark” by Jaleigh Johnson 

The year is 1370 DR and Devlin Torthil is a trickster magician in Amn during the Sythillisian Uprising. Ogres have been attacking the western cities. Dev is an interesting character, and learning his background like the character design. Overall he was a little too blustery and slightly annoying more than charming. Still a decent story, this one was Acceptable.

“Bones and Stones” by R.A. Salvatore

This tale is also set in 1370 DR, the aftermath of a battle outside Mithral Hall has left both the dwarf Thibbledorf Pwent and the orc G’nurk with the pain of loss. We also get Drizzt’s journal entries throughout, they’re not annoying this time around . This was actually really nice, I was admittedly a little scared since the last handful of books I’ve read by Salvatore haven’t been the best. This, this was nice. Though the fight did last a tad too long, it was well written as always. It’s a Good tale. I’m not actually this far in the Legend if Drizzt yet: this is somewhere around The Thousand Orcs or The Two Swords. This story was later republished in The Collected Stories: The Legend of Drizzt Anthology.

“Second Chance” by Richard Lee Byers 

The year is 1375 DR, and Kemas is in Thay. This likely corresponds with Byer’s The Haunted Lands Trilogy set in the same year in Thay. Kemas is a member of the Order of the Fire Drake in the church of Kossuth. He teams up. involuntarily, with Bareris against Szass Tam’s coup. This is a tale of a young man finding courage in the face of truly terrifying odds. It is Good.


Overall I’m happy with this anthology. I hope that future compilations of this sort as as rewarding. It was a little bit of a trudge getting through with all the notes I had to take since the characters and setting changed so often. Overall, this was a refreshing, Good exploration of many of the Forgotten Realms.

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You can track my current progress here.


Friday, July 9, 2021

Dragons of Autumn Twilight - My First Experience with Dragonlance


Dragons of Autumn Twilight is likely the most popular piece of Dungeons & Dragons literary fiction out there, even more so than The Crystal Shard. It is a classic novel published in 1984 by TSR, written in such a way to introduce the new setting by authors Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. In short, this story was very entertaining, and I am excited to continue. It was also very different than Realms' novels: more heroic, more catastrophic, more derivative of Tolkien, and so forth.


The book is divided into two parts called “books”. The first part introduces a group of friends coming back together after five years apart. They already all know each other except for a duo introduced early on in the tree top town of Solace.


A little slow at first, it always held promise to be an interesting story. The writing itself is good, and the worldbuilding is set up very nicely, giving us a feeling of a lost state for the world, where the gods are silent after a global catastrophe. The final chapters of part one had amazing endings where cities fell, gods spoke, and people were reborn. This was a grand journey, from point a to b to c, I was excited to dive right into the second part of the book.


The second “book” starts off similarly to the first, a sort of echo, which was fun. The story takes an interesting turn and we also get a couple more members added to the party, both of whom are awesome for different reasons. The intrigue that is introduced was also really fun to read since the limited views inside the characters’ heads made it difficult to guess. The plethora of characters makes it even tougher. That is one thing I liked, so many people in the party. I also forgot some on occasion. At its largest size the party has as many as twelve people! Fizban intrigued me the most, and Tanis was probably my favorite, along with Goldmoon.


I appreciated that the enemy was unique compared to typical D&D fare. Plus the gully dwarves were a nice and cute variation on the stout folk.


It was odd not taking many notes, and not being able to make connections to larger lore (not that it’s not there, I just don’t know it). Most of my notes were ideas for my own personal D&D campaigns. I’m also more interested now in Dragonlance as a setting than I have been before. I find the history of 300 years before the events of the book fascinating and those who know me know that I am a sucker for such lore and history: I need to learn more! I have question, the least of which is who is that old man?


After reading this, I definitely plan to read the rest of the trilogy, and likely some more Dragonlance novels, especially the ones that are in series with a Forgotten Realms novels. I also think I will share other D&D books I read, though I’m not going to read and rate all like I am for Forgotten Realms. I will keep track of this reading on the spreadsheet, so make sure to keep an eye out.


Have you read the Dragonlance books? How many have you read? 

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Dungeons & Dragons: Dark Alliance - How good is it?

In my post two weeks ago I mentioned I was going to give some thoughts on the new Dungeons & Dragons video game: Dark Alliance. While I’ve yet to complete the game I have played several hours and have a level eight character. I would still like to play more. 

Dark Alliance is a sort of reboot or spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance, a spin-off of the Baldur’s Gate video game series. It’s an action RPG, meaning strong focus is on fast-paced “kill everything in sight” combat. It’s decent fun with friends, but a little on the challenging side when playing solo.  

The game is nice to look at, even on my original Xbox One from 2013. Though I still find more appeal in the style of a game like Neverwinter (2013 MMO) more. For example Kelvin’s Cairn is huge. The home of Clan Battlehammer is large and epically extravagant, unlike its book counterpart. The game definitely has a multiplicity of bugs and glitches currently as well.

a tablet of Ostoria
Lore wise, it’s 1356 DR, just after The Crystal Shard. Obviously the books don’t acknowledge these events. The game gets its name from the loose alliance the leaders of many evil factions set against the Companions of the Hall. Regis is not a playable character, so be aware. There also is no caster to play as, since no one at this stage is in the books. 

You face factions of ice giants, goblins, duergar, and undead under the leadership of a returned Akar Kessell (I’m not sure if this would mess with any lore of Legacy of the Crystal Shard adventure). We also have Icewind, the mate of Icingdeath, which they retconned to say she is the namesake behind the Dale. The tone is very much not serious, and if you’re a big fan of lore there honestly isn’t much here. There are tomes and tablets that are interesting to look at however, but most lore is rather basic. Many of these tablets are from ancient giant society, specifically from Ostoria Oddly they don’t use dethek, but the logographic runes for divination purposes shown in Storm King’s Thunder. 

Unsurprisingly to anyone who reads this blog regularly, I’m not happy that they chose these characters. They stuck themselves over 100 years before the current D&D plot line, give us silly enemies, and make it known that they didn’t really have much of a Realms expert on hand that could have really made the game awesome for a lore junky like me. I think so lesser known characters, or even some new ones set during current events would have been better, but Drizzt makes up some sales when the game isn't outstanding.

Overall, as mindless fun, it works. If you want good lore, I’d bet on the upcoming Baldur’s Gate 3 for more goodies. If you happen to be a huge fan of the Legend of Drizzt, this could also be your thing. I will play a little more but I think after that I will likely put the game down and I don't know if I'll ever come back. 

Have you played? What are your thoughts?

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You can track my current progress here.

Monday, June 28, 2021

Completed Series: The Twilight War Trilogy by Paul S Kemp

The Twilight War trilogy is a series of novels written by Paul S. Kemp as a sequel series to The Erevis Cale trilogy (my review of that here), as well as a transition in story to fourth edition lore, the third book being released after the core rule books for fourth edition were. The City of Shade is come and Netheril has returned, as so detailed in the Return of the Archwizards series by Troy Dennning. The Twilight War also has an accompanying anthology, Realms of War, that I will be reading and reviewing separately later. (Update: Review here!)


I read first two books in March and the third in June, they are my 51st, 53rd, and 54th Realms novels completed.


Cover art by Raymond Swanland


Shhadowbred (2006) - Amazing

Shadowstorm (2007) - Exceptional

Shadowrealm (2008) - Amazing


“The air itself is an enemy.”

Shadowbred 

The highly anticipated sequel to the Erevis Cale Trilogy. It’s 1374 DR and a new shadow is over Anauroch, Netheril has returned, and what better setting than the proximal Sembia, home of the Realms best Shade and Chosen of Mask to fall under its shadowy gaze.


If you would like to read specifically about how Thultanthar returned, I suggest The Return of the Archwizards series by Troy Denning. If you want to know how the Leaves of One Night was retrieved, read Mistress of Night by Dave Gross and Don Bassingthwaite. None of these are necessary reading, they’re just tendrils that touch Twilight War in the intricate web of novels set in the Realms.

At the start of Shadowbred, we get a prologue from a young halfling boy named Aril. This is one of the best introductions I’ve read in ages, I had chills reading it. We then follow events started in Sakkors during The Erevis Cale trilogy when the Source cried out when the Sojourner’s servants encountered Ssessimyth. Our first main character is actually Rivalen Tanthul, a Prince of Shade set on conquering Sembia. Then we meet Elyril, a woman, a somewhat mad worshipper of Shar, goddess of darkness, living in Ordulin, capital of Sembia.

Finally we meet someone from the previous Erevis Cale books, the tiefling psionicist Magadon Kest on the Dragon Coast. And on page 82 we finally get a point of view chapter from Cale.

The political maneuvering in this book is great fun, and I’m reminded of the vast depth of history that is present for the Forgotten Realms. This helps with immersion, but is nigh impossible to keep a firm grasp on because of how expansive it is.

We also revisit Selgaunt and Stormweather Towers of the Sembia series, which didn’t feature much in the Erevis Cale Trilogy, so it was almost like coming home, though almost like a home with a stranger in it: the city has changed quite a bit and has a very different feel than before.

This books ends the tale on a cliffhanger, but not a bad one. This tale is clearly the first part, but it does it’s job well. Lots of things happen in this book, and though a large chunk of it is setup, it pays off and we get good action, character development, politics, magic, and more. I was extremely happy with this novel, and ate it up.


“‘Where are you going?’. . . ‘To kill a god.’”

Shadowstorm 
War looms in Sembia, back-dropping a dark fantasy tale of Faerûn.
I first noticed the excellent map at the front of the book. This story doesn’t start off as well as the first book, but nonetheless we find a trio of poor friends in a freezing hellscape. 
An encounter with Mephistopheles, Lord of Cania, saves their skins when a bargain is struck, a surprising one with shocking addendums.

Elyril is still a fun antagonist to read about, made more interesting as she descends into madness. Kefil is a unique companion for her, and I'm not entirely sure he is anything more than just a normal dog.

Chapter two returns us to Sembia politics with Abelar at a monastery dedicated to Lathander, and Mirabeta in Ordulin. Enticing details, juicy and intriguing, a nice contrast to the tough deadliness of Cale. 

The whole plot-line with Phraig was played out very well, and it was something that I was not expecting at all.

At times the books plot seems to be at the pace of an infant’s crawling, other times things flow rapidly. We also get to see some higher ups on a cosmological scale, mostly of nefarious alignment and reputation. The worshippers of Lathander in this series shine a good light on the faith, almost making up for their gods brash arrogance.

Lots of intense events happen closer to the end. We see a third Prince of Shade during the climax of the story, Yder, the same from The Sentinel. This climax was extraordinary, and bumps a novel that was somewhat suffering from sequel syndrome, but was still good, into higher territory. In fact the ending was even more epic than that of Shadowbred.

The juxtaposition of the fates and gods working in Saerb and Selgaunt makes an interesting contrast for peoples on the supposed same side of civil war.

“How can you not feel awe as you watch a sun die?”

Shadowrealm 
Cynical characters abound in this dark tale. We brought back to a shadowy tale, as the events of the last book settle over the land. Having taken a few months of a break, it was soothing to be back into the story. It starts at the beginning of the month of Nightal, basically our December.

As far as evil goddesses go, I much enjoy the philosophy of Shar and her followers over that of Lolth. Cynicism over unavoidable entropy seems more natural and believable to me. Every page of this book is a joy, even if it is dark. Seeing all the surviving pieces come together in such a beautiful show, an epic battle I don’t think I’ve seen rivaled in any other D&D novel so far. Cosmology shifts, divinity traded and lost. It's hard to write much since I do not want to spoil the story.

The epilogue takes place in 1479 DR, over a hundred years later, and likely was to setup the trilogy that later got condensed and made part of The Sundering: The Godborn.
Overall this trilogy is much darker than the first. There isn’t brightness from Jak in this one, and with Magadon’s deteriorating status, all seems to be descending into shadow. It’s nothing short of  Amazing honestly; The Twilight War trilogy now stands as my favorite Realms series to date.

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You can track my current progress here.