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

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."

The compulsion to come up with ridiculous in-universe justifications for rules changes occurring over editions was one of the more annoying habits of TSR, and it was incredibly annoying when WotC perpetuated it with the release of 4e and the Sundering.

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The EN World kitten
p. 12: This spell, called Karsus’s avatar, was the only 12th-level spell ever created. It was designed to temporarily steal the powers of a deity.

Okay, page 12 of "The Winds of Netheril" booklet in the boxed set. Thanks for that.


#090 Cormyr: A Novel by Ed Greenwood & Jeff Grub (Cormyr 1)
Read 6/9/20 to 12/9/20

Forgotten Realms HB Cormyr A Novel (Cormyr 1) NrMINTa.JPG

It's a chunky one this one, and all about... well, obviously- Cormyr; this is the history of the realm in 36 (or however many) chapters, actually it's the history of the Obarskyr family's rule. Point of fact it's about those two things but it's mostly mainly about wizards with names ending in -ast, it's about Vangerdahast (mostly).

There's a lot to like along the way... because along the way is a series of vignettes that tell a tall tail or two from days of yore- as we march into the present, how the Obarskyr's learned to rule, how the elves let them, how the realm grew, and how the nobles et al became such arch tossers (a lot of 'em). That's nice because we don't hang around here, we just get a date from the past, a problem, and the solution (of sorts).

Obviously the downside to this is we don't hang around very much at all, and it quickly becomes apparent that some of these good old bad times are a might more interesting than the present conundrum, which is...

The present Obarskyr/Azoun incarnation is dying- poisoned by an abraxus (a gorgon with nobs on), the nobles are revolting (that's exactly the right word) except for the (too) few (like good old Wyvernspur and Cat) that are loyal, the first daughter of the dying king- Taramasalata (from memory) is a brat, and so Vangey has to step into the breech with his conniving and plotting.

Which is... not as much fun because it all just seems like a lot of people pushing chess pieces around a board and posturing- it's just marking time, which of course makes the unfolding of days of yore, and how we got here, much more interesting.

The final reveal involves a teleport/Nystul's Magic Aura blood transfusion which is so whacky as to be risible, and yet a sorta suitable explanation of the unfolding. I'm just guessing but Ed Greenwoods prints are all over this bit. It doesn't grip- the journey does in part, but again- the bit that was the most interesting was at the beginning, the stresses and strains of the Obarskyr's learning to live with the elves.

There's a Harper or two, for good measure; there's a few other nice faces to meet and greet, but... that's about it.

Lots of history, for which I am very glad- I like that I know this stuff about the place that we are playing in, and that I can drop it in as an aside- in game, makes me look good.

But the real finale is a bit of a let down- it's difficult, I suppose, when Vangey is your hero and he succeeds against (no) odds by concentrating really hard on a spell- very hard to make the action leap off the page.

Read, a good history.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan

Oh but just to say I'm going to read this series straight through, for no other reason than the next 'normal' book I had planned to read is the first of David Eddings Belgariad, the first of five- which I am going to read as a series also, after this bunch are done. I last read the Belgariad when I was twelve, and had just got into D&D. A blast from the past- so, there'll be a pause after the Cormyr Saga. Just letting you know.


#091 Beyond the High Road by Troy Denning (Cormyr 2)
Read 13/9/20 to 17/9/20

Forgotten Realms Beyond the High Road (Cormyr 2) NrMINTa.JPG

Book 2- and more of the same sort of stuff, although- probably a bit better than the first. Or else it all seems much smaller in compass, with much less politicking- way more action, and- possibly the clincher, fewer interludes with the spoilt brat princess and the hated nobles. Obviously book one was the timeline for what follows- a massive (MASSIVE) chunk of exposition, this one then is always going to shine in comparison, particularly because its linear, and we spend time with people- enough to know whether we like them (or not).

Tanalasta's back, and she's all growed up, and- at last- she knows her own mind, and has the bottle to let others know. Don't get me wrong the last novel did her no favours, so she was starting at very low level, and yet you've gotta like her, or else I did. Female protagonists get short shrift (at times) in many of these books, some authors seem to equate power with allure/beauty, and make clear the need for both. It seems its not enough to be loved (by whoever) the leading ladies need also to be lusted after. Just an observation, maybe the time and the place- a message very apparent in a lot of media.

Dauneth is also likeable, when he shows up- I like that he gets to say sorry to his princess all the while, he seems a much better fit than the previous candidates (here and in the previous novel). Likewise the blessed of Chauntea, the earthsplitters- am I remembering that right?

There's also a part of me likes the fact that the enemy here has disarmed (sorta) Vangerdahast- the use of magic becomes verbotten, at least for a short while. I hate the fact that all of the main players have a big bag of magic items to rely on- but that's me and D&D, and he's the archmage and she's the princess- so, I get it.

There's another part of me that enjoyed the fact that Vangey comes apart at the seams, again- just a little, at times I think he's going to "lose it man!" I like that Tanalasta is often the source of his hair-pulling frustration.

All of the above said, there's still the sniff of epic in this- the PCs with their Purple Dragon shield of steel are extremely hard to kill, although... again, the bad guys are having a good go here. At the end of the book were certainly nowhere near the win- a score draw so far between Cormyr and resurrected/demonic Mad King (and the bigger bad), and this one-like the last, feels a lot like a set up for the next.

Lots of action, and we're closer to the final reveal, and the finding of the ultimate weapon to fight the foe, but... in a way we've just been marking time, perhaps a little more of a conclusion to this one would have served it better.

Who didn't figure out that Tanalasta would be with child?

So, much more to come- including the finale, and now (nearly) all of the pieces are on the board- the future of Cormyr is in the balance, the princess has married into a traitor noble family, the heir to the throne is likewise blessed/cursed, and Vangey is blowing hard...

How will it end?

My money's not on the big bad dude and his super-mooks.


Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan


#092 Death of the Dragon by Ed Greenwood & Troy Denning (Cormyr 3)
Read 19/9/20 to 22/9/20

Forgotten Realms HB Death of the Dragon (Cormyr 3) NrMINTa.JPG

Book 3- and the conclusion of course, this is 300+ pages of titanic, sprawling, epic battles (or similar). Goblins and orcs by the thousands, the Ghazneths doing their magic eating thing while the great dragon chomps and blasts entire armies.

It's an epic action movie.

In truth I'm not sure what to think about this one and the series, I liked the timeline- Cormyr from its inception to this the fiery end, not the end of Cormyr you understand- but the end of the dragon, and the Ghazneths (save one) and of swathes of the aforementioned orcs and goblins. Oh, and the end of Azoun and Tanalasta.

What to say- there's too much fighting, it just goes on and on- and I get that we're ratcheting up the tension, but there are so many last rolls of the dice that... well, the action loses impetus- throw another squad of Purple Dragons on the bar-b.

Azoun is great to the end, above it all- able to sacrifice it all, including himself in the hope that Cormyr and his people/family will survive. Tanalasta likewise makes the ultimate sacrifice, and it's gruesome, bloody and brave- with plenty of help along the way she has taken on the ruler's mantle. Alusair and Vengerdahast likewise prove themselves to be epic heroes- struggling to the end, although that's pretty much all as expected.

The plot- the ancient prophecy of Alaundo snakes its way out, as it turns out its all an act of revenge- a lover killed, a burning brooding hatred, and the ultimate revenge- to kill a family (the Obarskyr's) and end a kingdom.

There are bits of this I quite liked, intrigues and events which I will endeavour to adapt to my present campaign. There are parts of Faerun that now have a richer history for having read this but... it's alright, not as titanic and/or epic as all that because it just seems be a rinse and repeat thing. I guess if you set up all of the enemies than you are going to have to take the time to knock them all down- it's like one of those modern 'spectacle' action movies in which the climax starts (seemingly) about half-way through the picture and just keeps on rolling on. Those kind of movies of course rely on special effects set pieces, tacked together by dramatic speeches and darkly delivered exposition, before diving back into the next mini-max climax. There's a lot of this kind of thing here- and it, well... goes on a bit.

Oddly I liked some of the vignettes towards the end, the times when the authors plucked a knight or noble from relative obscurity and allowed us to see the terrifying unfolding from their perspective, to feel their terror and to be aware of their constant gnawing fear of failure, to not live up to their family/status/position, to just become another one of the countless dead and dying- sprawled on the battlefield.

Perhaps if the story had been told by someone with a less elevated position, maybe... maybe then it would be a little more interesting. Or else there was some other (more mundane- less royal/epic) central character that could serve as our witness to some of these events, but no...

The survival of the realm is at stake, and so the action is as epic and unrelenting as it should be, and yet I found myself less than bothered about who dies- who survives. I like the Obarskyr's (Azoun, best of all) but I'm not that concerned about how many of them are put in the ground at the end of it all.

I don't like them enough to root for any one of them to survive- except maybe Azoun, he seemed to be the least complex and therefore easiest to understand/like of his family.

I'm beginning to doubt my conviction a little, I get that the realms is as much about empires as it is about adventurers, but I miss the much simpler stories- even the complex ones that start with charismatic/enigmatic heroes that set out at the bottom of the ladder and rise up by being expert at their tasks, or else just surviving and persevering.

This all seems like very high level play (epic) and therefore out of my reach (as a DM), if it wasn't for some of the vignettes (as described above) then this one would have been a much harder row to hoe. I think what I am saying is I favour adventurers over royal families, the dark of the dungeon or the eerie woods and other fell places- stalking enemies and slithering abominations, rather than magic-eating demons (sorta), sprawling humanoid armies and ancient red dragons. I like a smaller picture, a story which shows how circumstances and the central character's endeavour shape the final outcome. I don't like epic- I like low level play.

Apologies if this was a bit negative, I'm sure that some folk thought this series climactic, pulsating and... insert your own adjective here. I get that the trials and tribulations of kings and rulers make for dramatic backdrops, but... they're less my thing. The Obarskyr's beginning was much more interesting, their final hurrah (for some of 'em) was much less appealing.


Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan


The EN World kitten
My policy, when discussing something, is to know what I'm talking about before I talk about it. As such, I prefer to have read/watched/listened to a piece of media before I make up my mind about it. It's led to me indulging in a lot of poor-quality stories, sticking with them even when it became obvious they weren't going to get better (much to the amusement of my friends, to whom I'd complain about how awful X show or book or movie is), and I'll admit that I still break this rule on occasion and prejudge something, but the majority of the time I can at least say that I've partaken of the thing in question and no sir, I don't like it.

This book, and indeed this entire trilogy of Cormyr novels, isn't one that I've read, however, so I won't be talking about it.

I will say that this series, unlike some of the other books discussed here, is one that I'd like to read someday. That's purely because the ghazneths got AD&D 2E stats in Dragon Annual #4 (1999), and I recall raising my eyebrows at what they could do.

Another reason is that I'm more partial to high-level play, at least in terms of the scope and outline of how those stories go. I'm of the opinion that the transition from adventurer to ruler is something that's been lost over the course of D&D's gradual evolution. Plus, when done correctly high-level play can be very dramatic, allowing for grandeur that exceeds what can be showcased via a plucky band of adventurers. Of course, it's too easy to showcase that wrong, and in so doing quite often tarnish the entire experience for a lot of people (if for no other reason than it seems to make all of the effort put into getting that far go to waste).

Of course, all of that requires you to be invested in the stakes presented to begin with, and I'll admit that Cormyr in general and Azoun in particular never really resonated with me. Maybe they would if I read the books?


Rotten DM
Just want to hop in an say one of the Humble Bundle has lots of Drizzit books for sale this week and other Realms books too. I think it is $5 for the first 5 and goes up to $30.
Good job to the poor reviewer and thanks for the reviews.


#093 Realms of the Arcane Anthology Ed. Brian Thomsen
Read 26/9/20 to 28/9/20

Forgotten Realms Realms of the Arcane Anthology NrMINTa.JPG

It's an odd one, not objectionable in any way but also not one to draw the reader in... or at least not this reader, but that may be down to the format, none of the stories are particularly standout it just felt a bit like a throwaway/cash-in anthology, an end of year beano.

The stories are-

Wishing You Many More by David Cook- in which two snarky wizards, ex-class mates (as it were) exchange terse missives as they snipe and bite, it's... mostly obvious, but funny with it in places ending with heroic self-sacrifice and... a bang. But it all happens elsewhere, the various letters make it all a lot less dramatic. Odd, really.

Secrets of Blood, Spirits of the Sea by Elaine Cunningham- the best one in the anthology, the story- way back at the beginning of the rise of the sahuagin, with a very nice twist in the tail- although, you could have seen it coming (I did). certainly the most complete, and best written of any of the stories here, and possibly something I am going to be using in an upcoming campaign.

Bread Storm Rising by Tom Dupree- magic bread rises, not as funny as it thinks it is, or else sets out to be.

When Even Sky Cities Fall by J Robert King- well written and good as far as it goes, the fall of a Netherse sky city (or two), it's almost a shame it's not a longer piece, although it gets done and well in only twenty or so pages- point made, move on. Nice.

The Grotto of Dreams by Mark Anthony- Undermountain's favourite talking skull is back (is this the second time we've had the skull's backstory?), and another worthy effort, be careful what you wish for. Suitably tragic but, and again- I figured where it was going far too early and so was not blown away at the end.

A Narrowed Gaze by Monte Cook- the fall of a king and a kingdom, again I was at a bit of a loss with this one- yes, read it, but... I wanted more, and a better ending, somehow- it's all a bit reported. Odd.

The Whispering Crown by Ed Greenwood- y'know Ed Greenwood = Elminster, when he speaks you listen, and he's so nice- no matter how much you try to hurt/kill him. Power it seems at any cost is not worth the price- everything in moderation, which sure feels odd when Elminster's saying it. Meh.

The Lady and the Shadow by Philip Athans- the Shadow versus Grenway, not a great name for an antagonist- sounds like a mall or a service station. Well written, a bit cheeky here and there with the odd (obvious, again) twist, but... well, the bad guy gets his comeuppance.

Shadows of the Past by Brian Thomsen- just odd, I get it- the Lords of Waterdeep mindblank (or similar) those with the skills to pay the bills and then set them various illegal tasks to undertake for the good of the city, perhaps. It's alright, but the explanation at the end is super-clunky.

Tertius and the Artifact by Jeff Grubb- Tertius Wands versus a doppelganger, again another story that flitted by- not as funny or as cool as it could have been perhaps, just okay.

There's a daft prologue, interlude (x a few), epilogue story about a monk/brother of Candlekeep (the author) who finally achieves a little recognition by becoming one of the spectral keepers of the knowledge, and the idea is good but- again, it's all a little flat on the page. The interludes do it no favours by being rinse and repeat, there's no story to be found in these at all- a good idea but strecthed too thin, it would have been better just to make this just one of the short stories in the anthology.

So, good in places but mostly nothing much to write home about.


Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan

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