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

Goonalan

Legend
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#055 The Ring of Winter by James Lowder (Harpers 5)
Read 1/3/20 to 4/3/20


Forgotten Realms The Ring of Winter (Harpers 5) a.JPG

Book 5- and the best of the Harper's yet, and for a variety of reasons.

Here's the thing... I love me some Chult, I did a lot of DMing (back in the day) in the Amedio Jungle (Greyhawk) and then when Tomb of Annihilation came out, and I read it- I wanted to head right back to it, in-game. Alas the opportunity has not arisen thus far, but I'm keen... very keen, and keener still now I've read this one.

So, Artus Cimber and his side-kick mage Pontifax (great name) are after the Ring of Winter, but the search is only the pointer, the journey is everything. The boat trip to Chult was okay but once we arrived in Chult I was all ears, trying to pick up as much as could to use in my game.

There are a bunch of bad guys in this one- the Batiri Goblins and Queen M'bobo, very nice- and well developed in ToA. Does Chult feature in any of the other FR novels? Please say, yes.

The big bad however is Kaverin Ebonhand, who's suitably Bond Villain- although also haunted by the spirits of Cyric, so that's good too. Skuld is a crazy good hench-bastard, terrifyingly effective and almost impossible to kill- and with good (simple) lines, he's going to turn up somewhere in one of my games- promise.

Then there's Mezro itself, hidden city/civilisation, and once there the living embodiments of the one Chultan god- Ubtao, the immortal paladins/protectors of the hidden realm/jungle- the Bara (including Ras Nsi).

It was great when Rayburton turned out to be not at all like the Rayburton you imagined (or else I imagined).

There's a lot to like here, and yet- why do I always have to complain? I'd like more- more time with the Batiri (and other villains), more time with dinosaurs and the dangers of the jungle, more time in Mezro (and with the Bara). There's just a pile of stuff in this one that's just hinted at, or else not explored in any great depth (I get why- page count) but I am gagging for more info. I want to spend more time in Chult and with all of the above.

Oh, but the story- Artus (eventually) finds the Ring of Winter and thusly wins the war, obviously it's a lot more complicated than that- we get to go places, meet new people (most of whom are actually quite nice, even the villains) and see lots of cool things. There's a bit of action (fighting) although its not a massive chunk of the tale, there's a ton of exploration (people and places), and... that's mostly it.

I didn't get Lugg and Byrt- talking Wombats, for some reason my brain went to the Phanatons (is that right) from X1- kinda token cute furry-folk with a simplistic (sorta) way of looking at the world. I love Lugg and Byrt's names, and their chatter, but not the idea of wombats- don't ask me, I'm not sure why not. I get that they're not native to Chult but they were (imho) Dwarf/Ivan & Pikel replacements. I think I would have preferred just plain old Dwarves, again- I get why that would be difficult, you can't keep having comedy Dwarf double acts, but... Wombats. It's just difficult for me to do in-game, or else I just don't wanna. Nice idea- under the confusion wall, but not my fave characters.

The rest... satisfying, and great detail (although I really did want more)- I loved the chatter with Ibn Engaruka "do you see?" I could have spent another 20-30 pages right here with Artus making plans... lots to admire, but over too soon, much too soon.

Is there more Chult to look forward to? Anyone know?

Read.
 

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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Insofar as I'm aware, there aren't any further novels set in Chult. But then again, I haven't read all of the available Forgotten Realms novels, so take that for what it's worth.

This one was a decent enough book, and I think that James Lowder is a very talented writer (I love love love Knight of the Black Rose), but this story never quite hit on all cylinders for me. And in all honesty, that's less the story's fault than how it never quite seemed to fit with literally everything else across the spectrum of D&D that tried to connect with it:
  • The people of Chult are a human ethnicity called tabaxi? Huh, I thought that was the name of jaguar people from the Monstrous Manual (Lowder would try to reconcile the distinction in FRM1 The Jungles of Chult, but it didn't really work).
  • The idea of a back-and-forth between gods over getting to decide your afterlife is funny, but the wider implications are problematic. Nothing else suggests that where you die has any bearing on what gods get to decide what happens to your soul, save for one minor point that I recall being in the Player's Guide to Faerun (I think it was that book) in D&D 3.5, where it was casually dropped that there were four different cosmologies - for Faerun, Kara-Tur, Zakhara, and Maztica - and which ones you could access with planar magic depended on where you were when you used your spell/magic item.
  • So Artus had a major artifact, one which gave him ridiculously-potent powers over cold, immortality, and boosted all of his magic items...and then he disappears from the world. Seriously, after this novel, we don't see him again (insofar as I know) until Tomb of Annihilation, over a century later.
  • Maybe it's because I didn't read FRM1 The Jungles of Chult closely enough, but the focus on the Batiri goblins in this novel (and that one necromantic Bara) never stuck with me nearly as much as the entry for Ubtao's evil alter-ego deity Eshowdow and the eshowe people from Powers & Pantheons. But I don't recall those being in the novel at all.
A few other thoughts: Skuld, for some reason, always made me think of an evil, humorless version of the genie from Disney's Aladdin. I can practically hear him giving a song and dance about how "you ain't never had a slave like me." The wombats, likewise, were so low-impact that I can't actually remember them at all, though I suppose that's partially because I don't know what a wombat actually looks like. Also, I think Cyric is a really cool deity, so having his presence be limited to Kaverin's backstory struck me as kind of disappointing.

Overall, I think of this one as maybe a 6 out of 10, but it's not one that I've felt any need to go back and flip through over the years.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
  • The people of Chult are a human ethnicity called tabaxi? Huh, I thought that was the name of jaguar people from the Monstrous Manual (Lowder would try to reconcile the distinction in FRM1 The Jungles of Chult, but it didn't really work).
I thought this but I couldn't go check on my copy of ToA because it's wrapped in bubble wrap in a box in the loft.
  • The idea of a back-and-forth between gods over getting to decide your afterlife is funny, but the wider implications are problematic. Nothing else suggests that where you die has any bearing on what gods get to decide what happens to your soul, save for one minor point that I recall being in the Player's Guide to Faerun (I think it was that book) in D&D 3.5, where it was casually dropped that there were four different cosmologies - for Faerun, Kara-Tur, Zakhara, and Maztica - and which ones you could access with planar magic depended on where you were when you used your spell/magic item.
I'm much less canon when it comes to the gods, I'm a terrible DM- or else my players have no concerns about any of this.
  • So Artus had a major artifact, one which gave him ridiculously-potent powers over cold, immortality, and boosted all of his magic items...and then he disappears from the world. Seriously, after this novel, we don't see him again (insofar as I know) until Tomb of Annihilation, over a century later.
Bugger, I quite liked his Indiana Jones style, I thought we'd see him some more.
  • Maybe it's because I didn't read FRM1 The Jungles of Chult closely enough, but the focus on the Batiri goblins in this novel (and that one necromantic Bara) never stuck with me nearly as much as the entry for Ubtao's evil alter-ego deity Eshowdow and the eshowe people from Powers & Pantheons. But I don't recall those being in the novel at all.
I've never read any of the FR modules alas, perhaps I should.

Thanks for the comprehensive reply, I think I should probably get a hold of the FR novels (buy the PDFs) and have a gander.

Thanks again Goonalan
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
Thanks for the comprehensive reply, I think I should probably get a hold of the FR novels (buy the PDFs) and have a gander.

Assuming you meant the sourcebooks and/or modules, I'd recommend the "gods trilogy" of sourcebooks from AD&D 2E: Faiths & Avatars, Powers & Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities. They're truly excellent books, and still represent among the very best works of religions in D&D.

If you want to see what those books are like, check out Auld Dragon's Monster Mythology Update project, where takes other canon D&D deities (mostly from DMGR4 Monster Mythology, which used a much less fleshed-out entry for its deity listings) and rewrites their information into the more expansive F&A-style.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
Assuming you meant the sourcebooks and/or modules, I'd recommend the "gods trilogy" of sourcebooks from AD&D 2E: Faiths & Avatars, Powers & Pantheons, and Demihuman Deities. They're truly excellent books, and still represent among the very best works of religions in D&D.

If you want to see what those books are like, check out Auld Dragon's Monster Mythology Update project, where takes other canon D&D deities (mostly from DMGR4 Monster Mythology, which used a much less fleshed-out entry for its deity listings) and rewrites their information into the more expansive F&A-style.

Apologies, I meant the FR modules.

I'll maybe have a look at the religions, my issue is- as stated above, my players universally really couldn't give a damn about the size and shape of the various deities in the pantheon, the gods- thinking back on it, have never really played much of a role in my games.

Impetus maybe- go help the Church of...

Bad guys, lots of times... they're all dastardly worshippers of...

Don't get me wrong, some of the Players and NPCs/Bad Guys et al have got religion but it's all just surface work, or else (name of deity) is just a handy source of spells and/or ethos.

We're very religion light (good vs evil, rather than specifics) always have been.

Example, Pete (one of my regular players) likes a good Paladin- but that's just because he gets to be a stat heavy, armour wearing, sword-wielding, shouty (self-righteous) thug- with a heart of gold. In the game I'm writing up atm here on ENWorld (ToD) three of the five PCs are ex-Dragon Cultists that have seen the Light of Lathander and are supposedly adherents, I doubt that any of the Players has read anything to do with the Lord of Light (including Lummins- who often describes himself as the High Priest of Lathander, or THE Lord of Light), they've improvised once or twice.

Note, Pete played Ray the Zealot in ToD (a Paladin of Lathander) he was killed by Kobolds, boy was everyone glad to see the back of him.

Odd, maybe, I'm not sure- I'm more interested in the geography, history, flora and fauna et al; I may read some of the sourcebooks for detail, as and when, but I think I'm more interested in the FR modules/sourcebooks for the lay (and the play) of the land.

Thanks again, its very definitely good to talk, always a pleasure sir, and your knowledge of this land is to be admired, and then stolen and passed off as my own...

Cheers Goonalan
 


Iry

Hero
Except for a few big league characters, Harper is basically just a substitute for "Random Adventurer."
Why is this person here? Don't have the word count for a proper background? Harper.
1-2 Main Characters. 1-2 Joke Characters. Some Harpers.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#056 Crypt of the Shadowking by Mark Anthony (Harpers 6)
Read 5/3/20 to 7/3/20


Forgotten Realms Crypt of the Shadow King (Harpers 6) a.JPG

Book 6- and this series is really starting to swing by, I'm having a great time... this one was another to be admired, nothing flashy just a nice idea, some twisty turny stuff- that's easy to spot (so very satisfying) and a genuinely well told tale. I liked it a lot.

It helped that the writing was good, not stop the world I want to get off- but simply put, well crafted and it just got on with it. It also helped that it read like an adventure, a hardback- to save Iriaebor, the City of a Thousand Spires, from the grasping Zhentarim- or so you'd think, but what's the novel called again.

The Shadowking, when he shows himself is more than worthy of the climax, as is his final resting place- a suitable locale for the grand showdown, in my mind I could see the film playing out.

So, the action's mostly in Iriaebor, which comes over (during the dark times depicted) as some rat-infested city corrupt at the heart, similar to those featured in a variety of WFRP campaigns. There's also a side-trek in here to the final resting place of a long lost bard, in the Fields of the Dead- there's some nice details that I'm going to steal from both locations for my own Realmsian wanderings (or else the wanderings of my players).

Also to admire is the adventuring party, the good guys- Caledan the world weary, cynical (I hate the Harpers) Bard/Ranger (?) the central figure for this campaign- I like that he's a little older, a bit (a lot) of a curmudgeon and a shoe-in for a (younger) Harrison Ford. Then there's Mari, the Harper with a secret (there are lots of secrets here), who of course hates/strongly dislikes Caledan for a good while- a sure sign of romance. Then there's Estah, the Halfling healer, and keeper of the folksy wisdom. But best of all are the remaining trio- Morhion the Wizard, cold (heartless?) and a serial betrayer of his friends, he's a character I have encountered many times before at my gaming table. What is it with folk that play mages, they always think (know) they're so much smarter than all of the other players. Then comes Tyveris, ex-Fighter-turned-Monk and adherent of Oghma, too cool for school this guy, certainly more so than the emoting Caledan.

And then, the real hero- the man that pulls no punches, takes more lives (in pursuit of the next bit of the adventure), who knows more secrets and dodgy folk, and in the end (Noooooooooooooooooooooooo ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!) gives his life so his friends can live- Ferret. I swear I cried, I don't want to live in a world without Ferret.

The good guys are the A Team.

Team Bad Folk has a few big hitters too, Ravendas- the sister (and killer) of Caledan's former lover, and as it turns out SPOILERS mother of Caledan's child. She's a wicked witch alright, and a suitably vamped femme fatale. Snake is Ravendas' right-hand man, almost right up until the end- the affected Rogue also commands (for a while) an ancient immortal (well, not quite) shadow-killer.

The bad guys are a touch Disney, but bolder towards the finale.

The rest is the story, which pretty much visits all the usual places, but it fair swings by- and makes you smile at times, of course there are clumsy moments- and some stuff so obvious as to provoke more than the odd sigh, but that's okay.

This is fantasy fiction, not Dostoevsky and a way to live the rest of your life, it ticks boxes- left and right, I'd recommend it to my friends, and I would definitely DM the adventure.

Read.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I mostly remember this book for how it made for yet another ancient evil from the dawn of Creation. By that point, that particular archetypal niche was starting to get crowded. We already had Shar, the goddess of loss and nihilism whose split with her sister Selune is part of the Realms' creation story. We had elder evils like Dendar the Night Serpent and Kezef the Chaos Hound. Now we also had the shadevari. Tying them all together in the sourcebooks would be a chore, and I don't think there were too many more of these guys after that (and, to my knowledge, we don't see the shadevari again until this novel's sequel, Curse of the Shadowmage, after which point they're near-totally forgotten).

Beyond that, I don't recall much about the book. The character who made the strongest impression on me was Ravendas, but I seem to recall that her short story in Realms of Infamy was more impressive. Here, she was largely notable for how (from what I remember) she came across as crazy but charismatic, like a female version of Cobra Commander. Oh, and the wizard who made that pact with that shadowy ghost-figure; that sort of "being treated as a pariah for doing something necessary to save everyone, and letting everyone think the worst about you for it" bit seemed cool to me before. Now, it just seems overwrought; I can't remember if there was a reason he couldn't just explain to Caledan why he did what he did, but if not then he really should have done so. Drama tends to work better when it's driven by more than just a years-long fit of pique.
 
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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#057 Soldiers of Ice by David Cook (Harpers 7)
Read 7/3/20 to 8/3/20


Forgotten Realms Soldiers of Ice (Harpers 7) a.JPG

Book 7- and that was quick, truth be told I couldn't put it down- I finished the last book early yesterday morning (7.30 AM), went out to do my chores- got back 2 PM and picked up this little guy- 120 pages in by 4 PM. Got back around to it at about 11.30 PM and saw it to the end (just short of the 3 AM). It's a little cracker.

The neophyte Harper (Martine) is sent to close a rift to the para-elemental plane of ice (all in a days work), she meets Vil (Ex-Paladin of Torm, he's lost his religion and gone native) and the Vani (bunch of Gnomes- everything you need to GM a lair of these little bad boys). She impresses neither (much). So, Martine, without help, heads on to the rift- she messes up (although she closes the rift)- or else the big bad guy is already on the scene (and now he can't go home). Vreesar, the self-proclaimed Prince of (Evil) Ice (Cream? Dance? -Ice-Baby?) is from this moment on after our heroine (or else the magic stone she's carrying which seals the rift).

Martine flees the scene, all the while telling tall-tales (everything is going great!) to her scrying Harper mentor (Jazrac, Wizard ninny). Soon after the Harper Ranger is captured by Gnolls, swiftly married to Hakk the Chief (nice work) and then quizzed (and later kept alive) by Krote (Shaman/Word-Maker Gnoll, best character in the book, although Vil's good too).

Then it's chase-capture-escape-chase-capture-escape time, or else something very similar. Vreesar turns up, slaughters Hakk (Gnoll Chief) and makes himself head-honcho. The Vani (Gnomes) are chief suspects for closing the rift- Vreesar wants it open again, if only to invite more of his para-elemental brothers to the party.

Martine escapes, with help (sorta), and then the chase really gets going.

There are lots of good combat sequences, Vreesar really packs a punch, Vil goes superhero and the Vani turn out to be made of the right-stuff, particularly Jouka in Badger-slayer gimp-suit. Jazrac (Harper Wizard ninny/Mentor) turns up, as it transpires the mage is yeller, although later (somehow) he turns in to a superfly war wizard.

So, there's a bit of that- some things, off-screen, seem to happen/change/multiply overnight. To begin with there are a dozen to twenty Gnolls, by the time we get to the end three times as many have already been accounted for- that's odd, but I guess Vreesar's been recruiting. Jazrac has no offensive spells, next stop- Fireballs, Thunderwaves and Magic Missiles (or similar). There's a few of these moments, when things don't quite add up.

But, it's well written- we don't spend a warbling age inside the mind (and emotional rag-bag) of anyone in particular, Martine frets- later she gets the bit between her teeth and turns all Sgt-Major, but I like that- she's a tough (strong) lady. Vil, the other half of the love interest (did you guess), likewise does a little light soul-searching, but mostly just gets on with it (falling in love, turning back into a Paladin). It's all very neat, nothing much unexpected but it sails by, and like I say... I was pretty much gripped from start to finish.

Nice cliff-hanger chapter endings, much more noticeable here (a common occurrence in this sort of literature after all) but I would keep on telling myself- just finish this chapter and I'll go and peel the spuds, make tea, or bloody-hell-I'm-knackered- I'll go to bed. But I couldn't, I just kept on having to find out what happened next...

Really liked it, and there's also lots here to take away.

SPOILER- Vil gets killed, and I liked it all the more for it.

SPOILER- Krote pals up with Martine in the epilogue- they wander off into the sunset, and I liked it all the more for it.

Read.
 

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