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Goonalan

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#087 Sword Play by Clayton Emery (Netheril 1)
Read 12/8/20 to 15/8/20


Forgotten Realms Sword Play (Netheril 1) FAIRGOODa.JPG

Well, where to begin- the Netherese are indeed a silly empire of earth mote style castles and the like, the foremost practitioners of magic, able to keep their floating empire aloft and to visit death and destruction on the inhabitants of the lands below. This book then was always going to slide towards the epic, which is a difficult thing to do, and almost never works out well.

Epic in its use of high-powered magic, and its epic locations, and enemies therein. I find epic level play (in game) very difficult to get right, this novel, perhaps, demonstrates why.

Oh, and we're back in the early days of Faerun, at least in comparison with the majority of the other novels- the Arcane Age, as the cover states.

So, Sunbright is a barbarian trying to follow in his (shaman) father's footsteps, off from his tribe (after they plotted to kill him- it takes a lot of remembering but right back in the beginning there's a prophecy that Sunbright will have a hand in the destruction of his community). The barbarian wanders into the wilds armed only with his (dead) father's magical sword- Harvester; alas he then becomes the unwitting pawn in the ongoing wager between two Netherese apprentice mages- Candlemas and Sysquemalyn. The pair of apprentices (although both are chock full of magic- apprentices only in comparison to their epic epic epic level mistress- Lady Polaris) decide to make a series of nasty bets regarding the fate of the simple 'mud man' (ah, we're doing racism here) Sunbright, setting the poor barbarian on the road to epic destiny and/or disaster.

Candlemas wants Sunbright to win through (just to win his bet, don't start thinking he's that bothered about the barbarian) while Sysquemalyn throws everything she's got at Sunbright in an effort to kill- the wager is... whoever wins gets to rip the arm off the loser, see- silly already. later the ante gets upped, but- we'll get to that, possibly.

Sunbright meets Greenwillow, a beautiful and deadly elf sent by Cormanthyr to deliver a message to the One King, an uppity surface dwelling tyrant that gets mashed into the story later. The pair fall, inevitably, in love- although there's plenty of kicking against it before we get to the final loving embrace. The final loving embrace being rather more final than either desires- Greenwillow gives her life to save Sunbright (oh, sorry- SPOILER) although this is a trilogy, so who's to say- maybe she'll be back.

Anyway, Sunbright is set a series of escalating challenges- from defeating a pack of Orcs (and men), fighting a Remorhaz (he gets help- but he has a good go at the beast), to venturing to the court of the One King to tell him where to get off. The two betting apprentice mages interfere at every instant, with Sysquemalyn even playing the part of spare wheel (very dangerous = very exciting) love rival for a good while.

The One King turns out to be a lich, therefore with a little help Sunbright co-opts/cons an ancient red dragon (Wrathburn) to expose/destroy the undead tyrant, a city and much of its populous (no doubt) are also destroyed in the process.

Then we switch to Sysquemalyn's private (pirated) hell, and go fighting Pit Fiends and ten varieties of other fiends in an ever changing cruel landscape.

Then... then... well, much more of the same, except at about this point the four names in the book have all decided to play nicely and to work together. The inevitable deus ex machina is, of course, Lady Polaris who steps in at the end to rescue the three (Greenwillow is presumed dead at this point).

Here's the thing, Sunbright is better than any other of the mugging barbarians depicted in the FR novels I have read so far, certainly much more coherent and likable than Wulfgar. At the start, when he's doing his thing- a simple lad learning to survive in a very hostile world, then... he's great. Actually, he's pretty great throughout, as is- very mostly, Greenwillow. The bad-crazy-epic stuff could have possibly been ridden out, and enjoyed more, if it wasn't for the presence of the two dopey apprentices, and the fact that much of it is their doing.

There are obviously plenty of lessons to be learned along the way- the 'mud men'/humans are far more resilient/good/worthy than the Netherese suspected, elves can love humans, Sunbright learns to not want (perhaps) the thing he wants and in the process grows up. Also, we should all learn to work together.

I loved the start of this novel, but then it just turned into an epic bad ass shooting gallery, they all (mostly) got played by Sunbright (with a little help from the raven/Candlemas and Greenwillow). The determination of Sunbright and Greenwillow shines through, their desire to save someone other than themselves is massively apparent, the fact that the reader is expected to believe that the two Netherese apprentices have learned their lesson by the end is... less convincing.

Obviously Sunbright has also put on about 15 levels during the course of the adventure, going to toe-to-toe with waves of ice devils, erinyes etc. by the last.

So, the Netherese empire must fall (hubris, mainly) that I know from the history of the realms, I guess its going to happen here- in this trilogy, but I could be wrong. Well, good- they're all terrible people (eating up all the magic/resources etc.). The weirdest thing are however the Phaerimm, spinning elemental vortices of hate that live underground, they are uber silly- and their whispering meetings that bookend this venture obviously indicate that they will be back for more in the later instalments.

I don't know- what happened to just telling a great story, why not ramp up the threat in other ways- why go Orc, Remorhaz, Lich, Ancient Red Dragon, Pit Fiend with large slice of Hell-full-'o'-terrifying-(CR 10+) minions. It's all a bit much, but y'know- the Netherese, you need an enemy worthy of Lady Polaris in the end.

Well written, mostly- it dashes around like a headless chicken at times, and exciting, but... ultimately disappointing, I just want the Netherese dead now, overlords (whatever their flavour/shade) just suck. I also fear that we're going to have to top this one in the next with the imported enemy terror, oh dear... Greenwillow must be coming back, and before then Sysquemalyn will escape her hell- or some such. But that's just me taking a punt, I could be very wrong.

It's all very AD&D, and not even the good/great scenarios from that edition, the change the world with a dice roll sucky stuff.

Read...
 

I read the Nethril trilogy last year. I've read plenty of Realms novels, but I'd never gotten around to reading that one. I'd heard a lot about Karsus and such from lore and forum discussions, and about the Nethril trilogy in general. I was imagining something truly epic going in. It was...not what I expected. I was actually kind of disappointed.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
And we're finally back to Realms books that I've read! Though once again, it's been quite a while here, so forgive me any glossing over I may do.

The trouble with commenting on this book is that it's very hard to keep it to this book; this particular trilogy peaks early, with the second book in the series being the most memorable by far. Compared to it, this one seems like one long lead-in, and the third comes across as something of an extended epilogue. That's not entirely fair, of course, but that's the consequence of having the most epic of epic shenanigans happen in book two while books one and three try to be more up-close and personal with the stakes (comparatively speaking).

What came across most strongly in this book were the personalities. The array of enemies they faced simply didn't feel like they formed an overarching plot, but rather a set of backdrops for the characters to play off of each other. To put it another way, the plot of the book was rather weak, and it relied on the characters themselves to keep the story together. In this, it did a fairly decent job, though not enough to entirely compensate for the story's shortcomings. It's almost like they were rolling on random encounter tables the entire time, with the banter and interactions being the part that everyone remembers later. I particularly liked Candlemas' overall progression (though I may be thinking across the entire trilogy here) as he starts to realize just how callous his society is, whereas Sysquemalyn leans hard the other way. Sunbright and Greenwillow didn't have quite the same level of growth (or perhaps not the same artful depiction of it).

One thing worth noting about this series is that it was very clearly written in conjunction with Arcane Age: Netheril: Empire of Magic (warning: affiliate link), a product whose title has always irritated me for using two colons; is that grammatically acceptable? Ahem. The list of personalities in that boxed set includes almost all of the major characters we see in this series, and their descriptions are very accurate to not only how they act, but recap the events of this trilogy. It's one of the more blatant product tie-ins for the Realms, even if the accompanying adventure How the Mighty Are Fallen (warning: affiliate link) has nothing to do with the books (despite having yet another lich-lord in it).

I will say that I found the phaerimm to be adequate in their depiction as a quasi-society of genius uber-magic monsters, but given that I'd read all about them - including and especially their impressive game-stats - long before I read this trilogy, I was kind of primed to think well of them in that regard anyway.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#088 Dangerous Games by Clayton Emery (Netheril 2)
Read 20/8/20 to 26/8/20


Forgotten Realms Dangerous Games (Netheril 2) GOODa.JPG

Book 2- and more of the same but a little/lot better (in places). We're catapulted with Sunbright and Candlemas into the future- 300 and something years, for exact numbers look up the end of the Netheril empire, oops- SPOILERS. Into the (floating magical dystopian) city of Karsus, ruled by... Karsus- take a left at Karsus Park, onto the Karsus Interchange for Karsus Field, home of the fighting Karsusonians, yer get it.

As Alzrius said in his review/post above, this book is more coherent- this is the issue, dystopian hell hole ruled by megalomaniac tyrant etc. one love interest each, crash the empire (or watch it happen) and at the last moment get the hell off the floating/crashing island. In a nutshell- sorry, spoilers.

It's better then the last one because it's more of the same, rather than more of something else that equates to the same- which was the first one. It's also better because Candlemas and Sunbright are at heart sensible fellows, and down to earth- and the voices of reason, so we like them. It's better because while Candlemas spends time with Karsus and the nobles/archmages, and sees and points at the terrible things that they do;. Then we have Sunbright who is doing the same thing except looking up from the bottom of the pile. The barbarian meets Knucklebones and then is dragged along with her gang and their adventures- the poor and downtrodden.

That works, and again there's nothing too much to dislike, except the hubris of Netheril, and that's exactly what we should be feeling/doing. It's not a stunner, because the story is going places that have already been predicted (and are obviously obvious). No surprises here.

There are some good bits on the journey, particularly the moment when Sunbright gets killed (almost) by the giant/odd corrupted forest Lich-thing, but then comes back as... Dun-Dun-Derrr… the SHAMAN!

The Bbn goes from pithy one liners mixed in with stating the obvious, to more of the same with an added my words are prophecy, he doesn't however get any more up himself- still down to earth, the lessons learned way back then- the tree lives and then it dies, and from its death the forest thrives. Still true. Magic has a price.

So, bang on- nice, but not a great novel- some good characters, a good-ish story, but... Netheril, like Halruaa- it's not for my game, except maybe only to feature its destruction. The poor are very poor, and to be pitied- as always, and admired for their stoic etc. but the rest of them- arseholes, destruction was too good for them.

Read.

Can't think where we're going in the next one, as Alzrius said above- the epilogue, we all (eventually) live happily ever after, maybe- the Knucklebones/Greenwillow will play out somehow, and Candlemas will probably get his long lost love back, or similar- maybe.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
And this book is really what the trilogy is all about. As much as it tries to bill itself as "the story of Sunbright and co.," I strongly suspect that the real attraction for many fans of the Realms was "come watch the explosive ending of Netheril, up close and personal," since by this point the events of Karsus's Folly were well-known.

I'll go ahead and note right off the bat that the Karsus's avatar spell was given game statistics, presented in the Netheril boxed set mentioned in my previous post and again in Powers & Pantheons in the entry for Karsus, who's included there since he is technically a deity, albeit one in a state of perpetual living death similar to what happens when Darkseid hits someone with the Omega Effect. Rather oddly, while the wiki page linked to above asserts that the spell's original presentation (in the Netheril boxed set) suggested that the spell was always of limited duration, I can't seem to find anything corroborating that in the text itself. Insofar as I know, the first suggestion that the spell's duration was "limited" was in the P&P entry.

Of course, the whole "after Netheril fell, 11th- and 12th-level spells were removed from the realm of mortal achievement" bit became rather problematic in D&D Third Edition thanks to certain quirks of epic progression. In fact, according to the Epic Level Handbook, Halaster Blackcloak actually took that feat enough to gain a 12th-level spell slot. But, as Lost Empires of Faerun would tell us later, it was no coincidence that even though you could have high-level spell slots, there were no actual 10th-level or higher spells, just lower-level spells that you could bump up with metamagic feats. Oh, and "epic spells", which LEoF said were basically only used as "elven high magic," despite those being entirely different in their AD&D 2E presentation a la Cormanthyr: Empire of the Elves.

But I digress (clearly).

The story itself is fairly straightforward, though getting to see Karsus himself is quite notable. While his personality is given a brief description in the boxed set, this is where we get to see him in all his glory, being like GIR from Invader Zim except without any of the restraints that broadcast standards require characters to have. The fact that he's the only one who detected the phaerimm makes this funnier, because who's going to believe the guy who turns people into jelly for fun when he says that magic whirlwind-creatures who live underground are plotting against him?

I frowned at seeing how Wulgreth was depicted, though. I mean, I get that there are already enough "ancient Netherese liches" out there, what with the Larloch, Aumvor, the lich lord from the previous novel, and the one in How the Mighty Are Fallen (linked to previously) all running around. Plus the guys from the Shade enclave (who aren't liches, but are thematically close enough), which we'll get to later. Still, Wulgreth was supposed to be a notable arcanist in his own right, who even after becoming a lich put into motion a scheme to destroy the cult that sprung up around Karsus shortly after the fall of Netheril (albeit limited to the city of Karse). So why is he depicted as basically being an undead gorilla here, hooting and beating his chest and leering at Knucklebones? That just came across as wrong to me.

Beyond that, the book does a decent enough job showing the utter decadence that Netheril falls into. Food riots being common, even as Lady Polaris has eaten herself into a blimp? Check. Experimenting on human prisoners as part of magical research? Check. There's really no stereotype of "total social collapse" that isn't used here, short of having actual barbarians at the gates. Or is that Sunbright's role here? Either way, the book's portrayal of the place is about as heavy-handed as can be, though to be fair a lot of this had been implied in previous works for a while. Even so, with the heroes being time-travelers for whom this is the future, you'd wonder if the thought of changing things Back to the Future-style ever so much as crosses their mind, though I suppose that's what the third book is for.

(Spoiler alert: they don't. The game lore is too valuable to discard so easily.)

Please note that all of the DrivethruRPG links given above are affiliate links.
 

Wasteland Knight

Adventurer
A Slow Day in Skullport, by Ed Greenwood- odd when you put this story alongside the others here you really get to appreciate how bad it is, or else- they are, the Greenwood magi-mix of overpowered super villains come to do battle with the usual (but different) mixture of middle-aged, bumbling and paunchy males and their coterie of (ex-)aunjanue, super-sexy (with a thing for older guys) adherent women. The one liners are the worst, although that's a crowded field. Sorry, but I didn't like it. Silly.

This is the perfect “hitting the nail on the head” quote for my biggest dislikes of the Realms.

I do like the Realms overall. I’m running a campaign in the Lake of Steam region right now. But I find the less “Greenwooded” the area of the Realms, the better.

Kudos on this undertaking. I’ve read a fair number of the FR books. There are some good reads in the mix, and done absolute garbage.
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#089 Mortal Consequences by Clayton Emery (Netheril 3)
Read 29/8/20 to 1/9/20


Forgotten Realms Mortal Consequences (Netheril 3) NrMINTa.JPG

Book 3- and here's the thing- more of the same but in a way (many ways) a lot better than what has come before. This is the epilogue story, what's left after the Netheril empire has been destroyed, although this one takes place back in the past. Yeah, bit of a head-stretch but, y'know- it kinda works.

This one's better because the mad Netherese (see previous) are mostly scurrying around in the background, there's the odd glimpse of the super-mages and their floating/flying cities, and their all conquering (not) armies, and Polaris is back, but... this one isn't really about that. The big bad is... SPOILER, Sysquemalyn, but you should figure that very quickly. The terror has spent the last three years or so, forgotten about, in her own private hell- and now she's back, and pissed.

Not particularly pissed at the right people, Sunbright wasn't the cause of her downfall- obviously, in reality, Sysquemalyn is/was the cause of Sysquemalyn's downfall- ain't it always the way. Hubris my friend, hubris.

All that aside this then is the story of Sunbright striving to do the right thing- to become a Shaman, to steer his tribe to pastures new, and to learn to forget Greenwillow and to open his heart to Knucklebones. As usual the finale is a little disappointing- particularly the Greenwillow/Knucklebones work out- they're the same person, sort of (oh... SPOILERS!). But the story, the action, that's all absolutely lovely- Sunbright is still the ultimo 'do the right thing' good guy, Knucklebones is still cheeky, chirpy, sassy and up for the fight. This pair are just good/great characters, they're interesting and have stories that are worth pursuing to the end. Simply put, I like 'em.

So, the pain and despair of Sunbright & Knucklebones as they chase the tribe, then the pair trying to kick the tribe into gear- they're a miserable bunch of ingrates, and finally dwarves and elves, and bad guys- Orcs et al, Sysquemalyn's tribe, and quickly to the finale... the big bad and terror extreme.

It just works, and its well written- much easier on the page than the other two, and infinitely more believable than Karsus and his sycophant mob et al.

Read, and not bad at all.
 
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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This is the prologue story

I think you meant epilogue, but otherwise yeah. While it's obvious that the final book in the trilogy has to wrap everything up, the smaller stakes are left with the unenviable task of holding up after the explosive ending of the previous book. To my mild surprise, it actually does this fairly well, for the same reason that the first book wasn't too bad: the characters are entertaining in their own right, and the book puts them front and center without going overboard about it.

I'll maintain that this trilogy comes across as odd, at least in terms of plot progression, simply because of the tonal shift in the middle of the series. You can't have comparatively low-stakes character-building adventures at the beginning and end while also having an apocalyptic disaster involving the gods themselves in the middle. That sort of contrast works great if you're an Oreo cookie, but not a three-book series. It's to Clayton Emery's credit that this works as well as it does, mostly because he tries to make this "the story of Sunbright and friends" the entire way through, putting the focus on them and how they're reacting and growing to what's happening around them even when Karsus and his wacky pals try to steal the show.

The issue with Knucklebones literally being Greenwillow reborn brings up some weird metaphysics, since D&D has always had some issues with reincarnation that doesn't happen as a result of a spell of the same name. In Fifth Edition elves are reincarnated as a matter of course (if I recall Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes correctly), but that wasn't the case back in AD&D. It's doubly weird to remember that the Netheril: Empire of Magic boxed set (linked to in a previous post) flat-out said "use these rules for characters living prior to Netheril's end, then use the AD&D 1E rules, then use Second Edition after the Time of Troubles." Plus the issue of an elven soul being reborn as a half-elf. Did the elven gods (being a racial pantheon and all) sign off on that? If so, you think they'd give a wink and a nudge to those elves who lean into the whole "racial purity" thing that seems to come up now and again.

Having said all of that, this book does come to a well-deserved ending for the good guys, especially since not everyone survives. Sunbright and Knucklebones really come across as having earned their happily ever after, which is something I fully appreciate. Those two went through Hell (even if it was a plagiarized version of it), so it was nice to see them come out the other side of it all stronger and wiser for it.
 

Mirtek

Hero
The limited duration was mentioned several times in the descriptive text throughout the box set, but left out in the mechanical write up of the spell. The second write up in P&P fixed that
 

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