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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.