D&D General I'm reading the Forgotten Realms Novels- #202 The Howling Delve by Jaleigh Johnson (Dungeons 2)

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This is another book I haven't read in a very long time, so I'm having to dig through some rather dusty memories of my impression of this book.

I think the biggest one was that I didn't care very much for Elaine Cunningham's writing style. While it's far more disciplined than Ed Greenwood's, and the characters somewhat rounder, I vaguely recall being somewhat frustrated with how the plot progressed. Everyone just seemed to be spinning their wheels for a large portion of the book, investigating people and advancing agendas that felt like they should have taken a fraction of the time. There was also a lot of tiptoeing around sensitive topics that were probably meant to be political intrigue, but came across as needless posturing around stakes that didn't seem nearly as high as everyone acted like they were. The villain's scheme felt overly elaborate and the method used to enact it hinged upon being ill-defined; when the answer to the mystery turns out to be "some bit of magic that you've never heard of (until it's just about to be revealed)" then it honestly feels like the rules are being made up as we go along.

It wasn't the worst Realms novel I've read, but it wouldn't make my top ten or even top twenty either.
 

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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
This is another book I haven't read in a very long time, so I'm having to dig through some rather dusty memories of my impression of this book.

I think the biggest one was that I didn't care very much for Elaine Cunningham's writing style. While it's far more disciplined than Ed Greenwood's, and the characters somewhat rounder, I vaguely recall being somewhat frustrated with how the plot progressed. Everyone just seemed to be spinning their wheels for a large portion of the book, investigating people and advancing agendas that felt like they should have taken a fraction of the time. There was also a lot of tiptoeing around sensitive topics that were probably meant to be political intrigue, but came across as needless posturing around stakes that didn't seem nearly as high as everyone acted like they were. The villain's scheme felt overly elaborate and the method used to enact it hinged upon being ill-defined; when the answer to the mystery turns out to be "some bit of magic that you've never heard of (until it's just about to be revealed)" then it honestly feels like the rules are being made up as we go along.

It wasn't the worst Realms novel I've read, but it wouldn't make my top ten or even top twenty either.

There's a bit of me thought that the spinning wheels, plates in the air style ongoing plot/sub-plot-plottings and schemes was all to do with something that'll be along next... in Songs & Swords #2- Elfsong, but I'm prepared to be wrong. It's a way of being.

I didn't mind the writing style, because a change is as good as a rest, and besides (for me) a large chunk of this endeavour is about learning new things about the people and the places of the Realms, as long as the text is palatable then I'm in for a penny.

It was an easy read, the last page always made me want to read the next page- there was a bit of the twisty-turny stuff but not enough to make me lose my page. A lot of it, wouldn't you know, was just fluff on it- but, again, that's to be expected.

I said in my write up that I guessed the end of level villain pretty early, part of the reason I didn't swap horses as I read on was down to the fact that Kymil (SPOILER) was being deliberately distanced from the action by the author. A case of 'nothing to see here', which is often a good sign- the potential fall guys for the Harper assassin gig (an assassin of Harpers, just to make clear) were too much front and centre, kinda 'here they are...' jiggle-jiggle.

That said I loved the Serpent's off-hand, '...and by the way, I've put a price on your head, you may want to get a hat. Have a nice day y'all', to Danilo as the best line in the book, or at least the best line delivered in dialogue.

Part of this, again- for me, is about stocking my DM NPC cupboard with characters (as well as places & things & plots &...). So, I'm gonna get me some Elaith Craulnober, although I'm going to have to refer to the guy as the Serpent, or Elaith, because the 50-something year old kids I GM are going to get leery (and juvenile) with anyone calling themselves Craulnober (Crawl(or Cruel)-knobber etc.). But I'm having this guy in one of my future productions, same for Khelben- I wish I knew about these folk earlier.

That kind of thing, in essence, is what I'm doing here.

Also, I didn't mind that Khelben (like Big Ellie) had set himself up as the arbiter of what's right and proper- sacrifices may have to be made, sure a few people got killed but- the greater good. A bit of hubris here and there makes the world go around, and reinforces a few of my own real-world views.

Thanks for reading & commenting, always appreciated.

Cheers Goonalan
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Also, I didn't mind that Khelben (like Big Ellie) had set himself up as the arbiter of what's right and proper- sacrifices may have to be made, sure a few people got killed but- the greater good. A bit of hubris here and there makes the world go around, and reinforces a few of my own real-world views.

Khelben has always been portrayed as such. Elminster is that crazy, but fun great-uncle, that you didn't know is actually John Wick. Khelben is a politician that "understands" realpolitick, sure he has your best interests at heart but he'll make the "hard" decisions.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#053 Red Magic by Jean Rabe (Harpers 3)
Read 22/2/20 to 26/2/20


Forgotten Realms Red Magic (Harpers 3) a.JPG

Book 3- and... I'm really not sure about this one. I just don't see it- it seems awfully contrived, but let's just get the caveats in at the start.

Another Harper story (obv), Galvin is a Harper Druid- he doesn't like cities, civilisation and, well... people. Wynter is a Harper Centaur, the pair hang out (perhaps) somewhere close to Thay. Brenna is an Aglarond politician (and Sorcerer) with seemingly no experience of adventuring, and the various hardships that it entails- one could ask how she came by all those Sorcerer levels but... I'll leave it for now.

Aglarond (and Brenna) think that a/some Red Wizards are looking to expand their operations, building an army (perhaps) to invade Aglarond. The three somehow come up with the ruse of travelling to Amruthar (in Thay) to do a little spying. Tbh Wynter is ex-of the district, so the Centaur's suited to the operation, although he's also mostly a pacifist, and absolutely against slavery (and Thay is full of slaves) so... not entirely ideal for an undercover op. Oh, and did I mention that Galvin hates cities (and people), and Brenna isn't an adventurer. So, if you could pick three people not to do this job then, well- these would be the three, particularly in their present configuration.

An example of this occurs when the trio get to Amruthar, the trio (every where they go) stand out like a sore thumb- Galvin (in the role of slave to Brenna) is constantly acting otherwise, and doing things that you figure your average slave would be punished ten times over for. Wynter buys a mixed bag of Dwarf slaves, who then treat the three heroes as figures of fun, constantly jeopardising the mission. It's the idiocy of some it that I can't stand. It comes across as action from around the gaming table, but not in a good way- with the DM just letting the PCs continue to get away with it.

Oops, I was upposed to be telling you about the things I liked about this one before I started digging in to it.

So, I like Thay- I dig the Red Wizards, Maligor (the bad guy) and in particular Szass Tam, the Lich is the coolest guy in the book by some distance. But the things he does... I don't get it.

I'll explain some more.

Maligor the Red Wizard is out to grab himself a bigger chunk of the action (mostly at the expensive of Tam), pretending to get his army of Gnolls together while secretly building a second army of Darkenbeasts, the real target are the gold mines of Thay.

So, the adventuresome trio nose around Amruthar, they're Mr. Bean-esque at keeping their head down, they make three Gather Information checks (although mostly unseen) and find out what they need to know. It doesn't seem that credible- the Red Wizards constantly at war amongst themselves, a world of falsehood and intrigue and they just bowl in and get the lowdown.

The trio are so bad at it however they eventually get captured by Szass Tam, and keep in mind this guy has Vampires to pick up his socks, so what does he do- he gives our heroic trio a force of (over 100) undead troops to play with and orders them to go fetch Maligor.

The Druid's not a general (I doubt he's even had any experience), Wynter's actually an ex-slave plantation boss (sorta) so he might know what he's doing but he doesn't, and soon after for no easy to explain reason gets attacked and Feebleminded (don't worry, he gets better) by a Yellow Musk Creeper. Brenna has never been adventuring before, I may have already mentioned this.

But anyway, the trio get an army to play with- on pain of death, and worse- Szass is threatening to invade Aglarond. So, okay, I'll buy it- a little bit, but... but, oh it just doesn't get any better.

I'll not worry you with the rest of it, just a few highlights-

Galvin nearly loses it when he discovers that Maligor has been using innocent woodland creatures to make the Darkenbeasts, there's a scene in which he cries over a dead mole/bunny and then swears to kill Maligor. I get that he's a Druid but just out of the window two thirds of the population of Thay are slaves, beaten and broken, and... save the bunnies!

There's a Spirit Naga, tres tough- she gets killed by in three rounds, without the heroes breaking sweat.

The second coolest kids in the book are the Wraiths, I'd read a book about these guys, they sound like a barrel-of-laughs.

In truth I can't think of any more highlights, it's just... an incredible (by which I mean absolutely unbelievable) story that could have only played out around a gaming table, aided by a slew of natural '20's.

I'm not even sure I'm that convinced by the location- if Thay's all that- a paranoid playground for high powered (archmage) Red Wizards then how come our three heroes can march around the place looking (and acting) like they're doing their best not to fit in, and still keep their lives. Is Thay some sort of grand conspiracy- the Red Wizards are all evil bastards, while the populace merrily whistle happy tunes and help the kind folk on their way.

Oh, and Brenna falls in love with Galvin, because... he's such a hero/nice guy.

And of course they all escape to do it again, probably.

I'm really starting to dislike the Harpers. Greenwood's guys seem like they're born again bad, and about Level 12 when they're first sent in to action. This duo (like a couple of the other semi-flakes in this series (so far)) seem ideally suited to other occupations, they survive and thrive against all the odds- they're not particularly adept, or clever, or... they're the kids with 'A' for effort on their reports, but no actual qualifications.

I didn't like it.

Read.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
It's entirely possible that I'm overemphasizing this, but every depiction of Szass Tam I read seems to be different from the others. It's like none of the authors can quite agree on his character, and while the various appearances he makes aren't wildly different, the takes on him are all subtly dissimilar.

In this story (Red Magic), he comes across as your stereotypical lich necromancer, going on about how "death is my domain" and comes across as treating everyone with an austere sort of cruelty, a sort of "you'll do what I order you to, or you'll die in agony and then serve me for eternity" take to dealing with things.

In The Crimson Gold, he seems much more (for lack of a better term) affable. He tries to kill Tazi (the heroine of the novel) with kindness, presenting himself as being an almost-benevolent figure. More than that, he seems almost like a jaded romantic, appreciating her presence to a degree that even he finds surprising. (As always, this is what I remember years after reading the book, so take this with a grain of salt.)

In the Haunted Lands trilogy, Tam comes across as pragmatic without being unemotional. He's laser-focused on his goals and treats his underlings with respect even as he's killing them. He doesn't engage in wanton cruelty, but doesn't hesitate to do whatever he has to in order to win, using raw power and honest conversation in accordance with whichever he thinks will serve him best.

All three are interesting characters, but they don't feel like the same character.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
It's entirely possible that I'm overemphasizing this, but every depiction of Szass Tam I read seems to be different from the others. It's like none of the authors can quite agree on his character, and while the various appearances he makes aren't wildly different, the takes on him are all subtly dissimilar.

In this story (Red Magic), he comes across as your stereotypical lich necromancer, going on about how "death is my domain" and comes across as treating everyone with an austere sort of cruelty, a sort of "you'll do what I order you to, or you'll die in agony and then serve me for eternity" take to dealing with things.

In The Crimson Gold, he seems much more (for lack of a better term) affable. He tries to kill Tazi (the heroine of the novel) with kindness, presenting himself as being an almost-benevolent figure. More than that, he seems almost like a jaded romantic, appreciating her presence to a degree that even he finds surprising. (As always, this is what I remember years after reading the book, so take this with a grain of salt.)

In the Haunted Lands trilogy, Tam comes across as pragmatic without being unemotional. He's laser-focused on his goals and treats his underlings with respect even as he's killing them. He doesn't engage in wanton cruelty, but doesn't hesitate to do whatever he has to in order to win, using raw power and honest conversation in accordance with whichever he thinks will serve him best.

All three are interesting characters, but they don't feel like the same character.

Such is the perils of shared world fiction . . . .

I totally agree, and have vague memories of this from back in the day, although I read each of those novels (and novel series) years apart and many years ago.

While it wasn't true character progression within the context of the stories and setting, I did enjoy how Szass Tam's character evolved and really liked the portrayal in the "Haunted Lands" trilogy.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#054 The Night Parade by Scott Ciencin (Harpers 4)
Read 27/2/20 to 29/2/20


Forgotten Realms The Night Parade (Harpers 4) a.JPG

Book 4- and where to start...

Myrmeen Lhal is a right royal pain in the backside, a bit spoilt, a bit childish (and arrogant) and bit like a crazy tornado of (often conflicting) emotions that spins in and out of control. She's hard to like, at times, and yet... there's something here, and I don't just mean the fact this she is (according to the author) the God's gift to all men (et al). Myrmeen's sexual allure (Charisma), is a straight '18', possibly with a few enhancements. But that's not it- the reason I decided to like Myrmeen, in the end, is because she finally does the right thing with regard to her long lost daughters Krystan (not her daughter) and Lynelle.

The amount of folk that get killed along the way to the finale must run into the thousands, not that Myrmeen is to blame for this, she (mostly) only kills bad guys and her Harper friends.

But I get this- she's all over the place at the start, and in the groove by the end- it's all arc, so to be expected, move on.

It's a dark number this novel, in Calimport where the Night Parade lives, and lusts, and gathers for the coming storm. The 'coming storm' being a Herod-like affair in which every newborn is collected, and sacrificed at the altar of the extra-dimensional (Foulspawn? Or else some earlier edition aberrant variant) being that fuels the Night Parade's fire. The sacrificed are born again- made into new monstrosities. The Night Born then are mostly Human in shape (by day) but perhaps carved from a cruder/crazier clay- all sinew, muscle and ooze; or else bloody feathers and bone- they're mutant emotional vampires, often with super-powers (just one each). They reminded me of the mutant/beastmen (et al) I so loved from early editions of Warhammer FRP.

So, Myrmeen is in search of her lost daughter in Calimport, taken (sold) to the last Night Patrol 'storm' fourteen years previously- or so she thinks. There's a mystery to unravel- there always is, and in the red corner is Lord Sixx (the Night Patrol head honcho) who is remarkably reasonable for the super-villain, content at various times to just let Myrmeen and pals live, and leave. There are lots of bit part players- for the good guys and the bad, and we get to glimpse a myriad of their stories, although if the characters are Harpers then you might want to toss a coin, to see if they survive.

It's a mess of a book in places, not because its badly written (specifically) because there's a lot to keep tabs on, and the action meanders, and the amount of added histories, or backstories, or reveals keeps piling up all of the time. Too much for me to report here, certainly.

But just to say, Lucius the happy magic user who mostly doesn't want what Myrmeen is selling (sex) is an absolute mystery to me. Why's he here, and why does he have to die... it's beyond me. Is the lesson- good folk, that behave bravely/well/sensibly/intelligently etc. who don't simply 'fall' for the hero/ine, and who are supremely content with their own lives, and their own families, well... they have to die. Or rather to sacrifice themselves so that the emotional gadabout (heroine) can finally figure its time to grow up, and stop just going with an emotional response (women!).

Again, some of it left me unsure of quite how to respond to it.

How the hell has Myrmeen ruled Araby for the past I don't know how long, she tells us at various stages about the kind of things that she has experienced as a city ruler- the schemes and ventures of other powerful men, trying to get one over her (and her people- but mostly 'over her', its a sex thing). And yet she's a spiralling disaster area (at times)- single-minded, and prepared to see it through to the end (and give her life) but... There was a time, early on- admittedly, when I started to think of her Harper companions as sword-wielding nannies for the brattish Myrmeen.

Therefore skip to the end- the 'storm' comes, the last decent Harper standing Reisz goes away and then come back again- just in time. The other Harper still standing- Ord, gets killed doing the right thing (at last) and then he too comes back again, fingers-crossed, he wasn't dead. The second coming of the Night Patrol is parading, the citizens of Calimport enthralled, and queuing around the block to start their suffering. Into the weird maelstrom comes our heroes- to give their lives, and hearts, and... all the usual heroic traits and tropes, to stop the party.

Which they do! What a shocker.

Myrmeen, Krystan and Reisz (and Ord) win through in the end- these four have gone the furthest on their journeys (although perhaps not Reisz) and remain steadfast to the end.

It's about Love, stupid!

There's some stuff here which I still don't get, or like, or... that just keeps me from liking it more.

To recap, I liked the idea(s) more than the execution, I struggled with the central character but came out in favour of her by the finale (just). There's plenty here to take away, other bits seemed like a bit lazy stereotype (women), other parts as if the author was just trying to hard to keep burying (and then revealing) various red herrings, plot asides, sub-plot intrigues, new and strange characters (that serve no actual purpose)- a bit of a sprawling mess, but y'know- readable.

Read.

Read.
 



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