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


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Alzrius

The EN World kitten
This is one of the few series that I bought in hardback form, mostly because I wanted to read it badly enough that I couldn't wait for the softcovers to come out. The fact that it released in hardcover at all is something of a giveaway as to how much WotC thought this series was a winner; most of their books don't get hardcover releases in the first place.

The fact that each book was written by a different author struck me as odd, if for no other reason than it was so unusual (I may also have gotten Double Diamond Triangle flashbacks, which surely made me nervous, though apparently not enough to put me off of the series). Did they do it because six books in a timely manner was too much to ask of any one author? Was it just a marketing gimmick, i.e. "if you have a favorite Realms author, they're here"? I feel like there was a deliberate purpose in mind, but I'm not entirely sure what it was.

As for the book itself, I agree that this one was done well. There are surprisingly few novels (at least insofar as I know) where the main characters are bad guys (though "anti-heroes," a nebulous term which I've come to interpret at "does the right thing using methods that most people wouldn't approve of," are a bit more popular), particularly when it comes to D&D. Ravenloft had some of the best (e.g. Lord Soth and Azalin), but these guys are well-presented in that manner too, even if Menzoberranzen's culture provides a ready-made background with regard to softening their actions by way of saying that they're products of their society. Also, it was nice to have the higher-end magic be so forthright; a lot of D&D novels seem to have a hard time with that.

Although, on that subject, I remain irritated that we never got game statistics for the stonefire bombs. The main characters from these novels all got their stats eventually presented in Dragon magazine (issues 302, 312, and 322), but the stonefire bombs never did. They're not hard to homebrew, but little things like that irk me, simply because they're such obvious oversights that you'd think someone somewhere would have done something about them.

I have some more thoughts on the overall progression of the series and its characters, but I'll bring those up as we get to the later novels.
 

TheSword

Legend
This is one of the few series that I bought in hardback form, mostly because I wanted to read it badly enough that I couldn't wait for the softcovers to come out. The fact that it released in hardcover at all is something of a giveaway as to how much WotC thought this series was a winner; most of their books don't get hardcover releases in the first place.

The fact that each book was written by a different author struck me as odd, if for no other reason than it was so unusual (I may also have gotten Double Diamond Triangle flashbacks, which surely made me nervous, though apparently not enough to put me off of the series). Did they do it because six books in a timely manner was too much to ask of any one author? Was it just a marketing gimmick, i.e. "if you have a favorite Realms author, they're here"? I feel like there was a deliberate purpose in mind, but I'm not entirely sure what it was.

As for the book itself, I agree that this one was done well. There are surprisingly few novels (at least insofar as I know) where the main characters are bad guys (though "anti-heroes," a nebulous term which I've come to interpret at "does the right thing using methods that most people wouldn't approve of," are a bit more popular), particularly when it comes to D&D. Ravenloft had some of the best (e.g. Lord Soth and Azalin), but these guys are well-presented in that manner too, even if Menzoberranzen's culture provides a ready-made background with regard to softening their actions by way of saying that they're products of their society. Also, it was nice to have the higher-end magic be so forthright; a lot of D&D novels seem to have a hard time with that.

Although, on that subject, I remain irritated that we never got game statistics for the stonefire bombs. The main characters from these novels all got their stats eventually presented in Dragon magazine (issues 302, 312, and 322), but the stonefire bombs never did. They're not hard to homebrew, but little things like that irk me, simply because they're such obvious oversights that you'd think someone somewhere would have done something about them.

I have some more thoughts on the overall progression of the series and its characters, but I'll bring those up as we get to the later novels.
I might be completely making this up but I thought stonefire bombs got stats in the Underdark book for 3e forgotten realms. I have the book at home so will check then.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
#144 Dissolution by Richard Lee Byers (War Spider Queen 1)
Read 11/11/21 to 14/11/21


View attachment 146871

Well, everything is better with Drow, who would have thought it.

I really enjoyed this book, and for a variety of reasons (although mostly down to the DM in me).

I enjoyed it so much that it made me think, if this had come first on the reading list- would I have enjoyed Drizzt's escapades in Menzo less? The answer, of course, would be yes. I'm not saying this one (this series?) is better than the original, but- there's a lot of meat on this particular bone.

Also, Drizzt is the exception to the rule, he's the drow that sees the drow for what they are, he's a hero- an anti-hero (maybe) but more likely, and having read this one, he's not nearly anti-hero enough. For me.

Is there another FR book, that I have read so far, that employs more dastardly folk as the central characters here?

In this one we follow Pharaun & Ryld (Masters both) as they go about their detective business, we also spend plenty of time Quenthel (the third Master of Menzo) as the daughter of Baenre struggles with Lloth's departure/withdrawal and the subsequent loss of priestly powers.

So, here's the first thing- none of these folk are traditional heroes/central characters, don't get me wrong they're awfully good company, but mainly for the reason that, well... anything goes. Even atrocities are an option- the loss of innocent (or other) lives- commonplace, to be expected.

These are very bad people, but y'know, in a very bad world.

Drizzt was a good fellow in the same bad world- we wanted him to escape, to get to the surface- to see the sun, the wind, and rain (sorry, I went all rangery)... and all of that other hippy-dippy shiznit. The three named above, less so...

Don't get me wrong Pharaun & Ryld could be the next Jarlaxle & Entreri (or similar), they're the best at what they do, they're cool (super-cool), Pharaun is glib and funny; Ryld is the brooding menace. So far, so good- so recognisable.

Quenthel is a tyrannical maniac- but logic-based, so- explainable, and, of course, everyone that's against Quenthel (and the P&R double act) is even worse, even more nasty- so, hurrah for the Master's of Menzo!

That's not a bad place to be- for a reader, watching and willing on as a trio of funny/terrifying drow masters detectivise their way out of this one...

Just take a moment to appreciate the cleverness of this idea.

These aren't the trad. good guys you are reading about, they're not even the least objectionable, they (and particularly Quenthel) are just the folk that were there at the time- to make sense of it, the clever (evil?) folk that made some of it happen.

Nice!

Why else is this one great- it swings by, when its not action its places (squalid places) that the previous Menzo-based novels have not gone before. The Alhoon revolution, the uprising of the slavers/fodder, that's okay but better still its an excuse to take us for a wander through the bad places in Menzo, and that's enlightening. I can see how it all works now, before I was sorta guessing.

The same is true for Quenthel and her defence of Arach-Tinilith, which we explore repeatedly- and get to meet the cast, as the demon hunting game goes on.

Obviously then there's the other little side plots- Greyanna trying to kill Pharaun, and Gromph (the source of the demons) also trying to kill his sister. It's a joyous place is Menzo, just a great venue for adventure- why isn't there a WOTC mega-dungeon set down here. I remember DMing G1-3, D1-3 & Q1; but that was a million years ago. I sorta remember a Return to the Demonweb Pits (or something similar) was that 3.5E? I'm not stopping to look it up.

Memory jog- I also remember a Menzo book in 4e, but I never got around to reading it, and sold it on- like I did with all of that edition.

Surely time for a revisit? But I guess I'm shouting this because I'm still sitting in Menzo right now.

So, villains as heroes- and I mean proper villains, I get that Pharaun & Ryld are relative moderates but neither of them have the moral/ethical ying-yang that so infects Drizzt going on. It's just kill or be killed, or else- this person needs to die to forward my plan, therefore "DIE!"

Menzo is a delight, it's a place I want to DM, it's a place I want to live (in-game).

The writing is good, Ryld and Pharaun are suitable brooding/comic, and in the end the latter is more than capable of abandoning his partner in order to extract himself from the situation, and save his skin. They're the best of friends, in a world in which best friends take it in turns to plot and/or kill each other.

That really works.

Quenthel is just as detective and just as insightful, and particularly as she takes the time to explain to us (the reader) what's going on atm, and what her next move should be, and why. She's Margaret Thatcher reborn as a drow (but hang on) an iron fisted tyrant with a heart of... actually, I'm not sure she has a heart at all. But what a character.

I think we're going to Ched Nasad in the next one, I am so looking forward to that.

But again, these are villains, or else- if only the villains in other books were half as cool/cruel as these two/three.

You'd want them to win.

Oops! I think I've just worked out the problem with too-cool villains.

Recap- the nastier your central characters are, the more dystopian and cruel the setting needs to be- got it, and it works.

I really enjoyed this one, and can't wait to get to the next.

What's with the "RA Salvatore's War of the Spider Queen..." thing atop each of the novels. Did Bob plot it all out? Did Bob come up with the idea? Did Bob... I'm sure there were lots of politics involved in the creation of this series. Dilute the source, diminish his power, as it turns out other people can write really good drow novels.

Oh, and Elaine Cunningham's Liriel- too nice, too bratty (at times), and too quickly to the surface; I hate to say it but this is my favourite drow-based book so far.

More fun than Drizzt et al.

Sorry. I just really enjoyed everything about it, oh and Pharaun is Danillo Thann, only less posh- more approachable, with better lines and with a refreshing- smart/glib/zingy(?) outlook.

I heart Pharaun.

And Ryld.

And Quenthel, more than a little.

Oh, and I want a Draegloth for Christmas, can you fix that?

Read.

Stay safe and well.

Cheers goonalan.
If I remember correctly (it's been a while), I don't think Salvatore really had much to do with this series. He might have been in on the initial conceptual meetings. His name is on the cover mostly because these books are about drow, and his name sells books.

This is a long series, six books, and even has another follow-up trilogy. I really enjoyed the entire series, moreso than the Drizzt novels. Although, there's some weird stuff at the end of book six regarding elven races and skin color . . . . I think it tries to fix the evil elf with dark skin trope, but actually makes it worse. It only comes up in book six, and isn't discussed anywhere else, to my knowledge. I'll let you get to it yourself, I'm curious how you'll react to it.
 

TheSword

Legend
Wikipedia said:
According to Salvatore, the idea for the series was that of his editor Philip Athans, who also wrote the fifth book of the series. Athans had to convince Salvatore to sign onto the project, and it was the idea that "I could help some other writers get some much-needed exposure" which won the author over. Salvatore and fellow authors Richard Baker, Thomas Reid, and Richard Lee Byers along with Athans and others then met in Seattle to compile the main overview of the storyline. Afterwards, Salvatore became the content editor, mostly ensuring that content within the Drow city of Menzoberranzan "kept the place where I wanted it for future works."[3]
 

Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
#145 Insurrection by Thomas M Reid (War Spider Queen 2)
Read 17/11/21 to 20/11/21


IMG_3201.JPG


And still everything is better with drow, hence it only taking three days to read this one.

Also, as I've said before, I'm reading a 'normal' novel between each FR offering- so Umberto Eco's Baudolino (a great book) got demolished in just three days between this one and the last from the War of the Spider Queen series. I needed to get back to it.

So, Ched Nasad- what a place, and keep in mind that I had no idea about the locale- other than the name, that's all the information I had before picking up this one.

There's a bit of- Wow! going on at the start, but that's just me grinning to myself and wondering what it would be like to DM my guys around this terrifying/crazy place- spider's webs turned to stone for thoroughfares, the great houses- and all of the other buildings built on the webs/walls etc. It's a shame that we don't get to spend longer in some of these places, Ched Nasad is a place I want to know, although... at the end.

Is it entirely destroyed, or does some version of the ruins get propped back up again? What's left there?

Then there's the Guardian Spiders, as enemies go- I like them, and the fact that with Lolth gone the Matron Mothers have no control over the massive terrors. In fact the entire situation/operation runs like a high level (hefty- a thick book) scenario, particularly the end game when our gang of kick ass drow (et al) have to make it out of Ched before the big whoops. It's a nice climax, a lot of running around and fight after fight- so many, and I love this stuff, that even I started wishing (a little) for the end. But the finale in the Dangling Tower is just superb.

There's stuff here that I like less than the last one, but... not much, the away team are just glorious, particularly with the Alu Demon- Aliisza, and Jeggred has shaped up- I wouldn't say that the Draegloth is a team player but, he comes good in this one. As does Quenthel.

Perhaps its Pharaun then that disappoints (but only a very little) in comparison with his previous incarnation. He's the central character, the MVP, and yet even he is short of quips, and needs to get rescued every now and then in this one. I'm not sure why I was a little less impressed with his performance here, early on in the novel he was his usual chipper self- bedding Aliisza and smirking and smarming his way through every encounter. Then... it all just got as lot less smart, a lot more fighty and a lot busier. Pharaun didn't get as much chance/space to shine, or else to sound too cool for skool while doing so.

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing bad here, it's just that if the last one was a 9.5/10 then this one was only a 9/10. That's the limit of my complaint.

Great book, everything is better with drow, duergar, demons, draegloth and damned big spiders.

Read.

Stay safe and well you lovely people.

Cheers goonalan.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I'm trying to remember if this is the first time we've ever actually been to Ched Nasad proper. It's been name-dropped fairly often insofar as drow cities go; I think that Salvatore came up with the place, saying that it was Menzoberranzan's closest neighbor, but I can't recall anything more than superficial descriptions in places like Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark. Even Maerimydra got decent coverage in City of the Spider Queen (which, incidentally, takes place during these same novels; the adventure is basically what happens in Maerimydra during Lolth's Silence).

Of course, it's all fairly pointless anyway, since the city is never fully restored. It doesn't completely cease to exist; both Underdark and Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue confirm that much, but it's never rebuilt, instead hobbling along as a shadow of its former self, which is kind of appropriate considering who runs the place after that.

The appearance of Aliisza the alu-demon (though my 2E upbringing always comes through here, since I keep wanting to call her an "alu-fiend") was something that caught me by surprise when I first read this book. While I didn't own a copy of Hellgate Keep at the time, I had flipped through it, and knew she was an NPC from there. I'm not sure what prompted Thomas M. Reid to include her here (he wasn't the author of the module in question) beyond an idea that she was a power-player in the general region and so should be involved.

As it stands, I mostly regard Aliisza's character as an impressive one, but more for her game stats than her presentation. The 2E lore was oddly consistent about the fact that alu-fiendsdemons could only gain wizard levels if they had an 18 Intelligence (the highest they could conceivably have under the game rules), and even then were limited to 12th level...which is exactly how Aliisza is portrayed (even if, as far as I know, she never had stats outside of 2E). It's nice when the lore is self-consistent, rather than needlessly contradicting itself.

With regard to Jeggred, I got the feeling that he was there as a walking advertisement for Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerûn, since that's where draegloths first appeared (and this book came out less than two years later). Of course, your average draegloth doesn't have anywhere near the power to compete with high-level characters like this series' protagonists, so it was little surprise when Dragon #302 said that Jeggred was a barbarian 9/fighter 4 with several unique magic items. With that level of power, and his Chaotic Evil alignment, you'd think that Jeggred wouldn't be quite so loyal to his mother Triel Baenre, and yet the thought of anyone disobeying her tends to make him very upset. Presumably calling him a mama's boy makes him immediately activate his barbarian rage.

Far more interesting were the Jaezred Chaulssin (though the name was, like so many other instances of drow nomenclature, seemingly designed to confound people trying to type it out on the Internet). Cabals of that sort are campaign fodder, and this was no exception. We wouldn't get more solid information on them until Dragons of Faerûn put out its "City of Wyrmshadows" web enhancement, which presented a thorough look at the organization, with the dizzying mechanical complexity that I so loved about 3.5E.

Lots of good times here, in other words. Also, the plot was of the novel was fun too. ;)

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.
 
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Goonalan

Legend
Supporter
I'm trying to remember if this is the first time we've ever actually been to Ched Nasad proper. It's been name-dropped fairly often insofar as drow cities go; I think that Salvatore came up with the place, saying that it was Menzoberranzan's closest neighbor, but I can't recall anything more than superficial descriptions in places like Drizzt Do'Urden's Guide to the Underdark. Even Maerimydra got decent coverage in City of the Spider Queen (which, incidentally, takes place during these same novels; the adventure is basically what happens in Maerimydra during Lolth's Silence).

Of course, it's all fairly pointless anyway, since the city is never fully restored. It doesn't completely cease to exist; both Underdark and Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue confirm that much, but it's never rebuilt, instead hobbling along as a shadow of its former self, which is kind of appropriate considering who runs the place after that.

The appearance of Aliisza the alu-demon (though my 2E upbringing always comes through here, since I keep wanting to call her an "alu-fiend") was something that caught me by surprise when I first read this book. While I didn't own a copy of Hellgate Keep at the time, I had flipped through it, and knew she was an NPC from there. I'm not sure what prompted Thomas M. Reid to include her here (he wasn't the author of the module in question) beyond an idea that she was a power-player in the general region and so should be involved.

As it stands, I mostly regard Aliisza's character as an impressive one, but more for her game stats than her presentation. The 2E lore was oddly consistent about the fact that alu-fiendsdemons could only gain wizard levels if they had an 18 Intelligence (the highest they could conceivably have under the game rules), and even then were limited to 12th level...which is exactly how Aliisza is portrayed (even if, as far as I know, she never had stats outside of 2E). It's nice when the lore is self-consistent, rather than needlessly contradicting itself.

With regard to Jeggred, I got the feeling that he was there as a walking advertisement for Monster Compendium: Monsters of Faerûn , since that's where draegloths first appeared (and this book came out less than two years later). Of course, your average draegloth doesn't have anywhere near the power to compete with high-level characters like this series' protagonists, so it was little surprise when Dragon #302 said that Jeggred was a barbarian 9/fighter 4 with several unique magic items. With that level of power, and his Chaotic Evil alignment, you'd think that Jeggred wouldn't be quite so loyal to his mother Triel Baenre, and yet the thought of anyone disobeying her tends to make him very upset. Presumably calling him a mama's boy makes him immediately activate his barbarian rage.

Far more interesting were the Jaezred Chaulssin (though the name was, like so many other instances of drow nomenclature, seemingly designed to confound people trying to type it out on the Internet). Cabals of that sort are campaign fodder, and this was no exception. We wouldn't get more solid information on them until Dragons of Faerûn put out its "City of Wyrmshadows" web enhancement, which presented a thorough look at the organization, with the dizzying mechanical complexity that I so loved about 3.5E.

Lots of good times here, in other words. Also, the plot was of the novel was fun too. ;)

Please note my use of affiliate links in this post.

Thanks for that, greatly appreciated.

Cheers goonalan.
 

TheSword

Legend
Ched Nassed is extremely interesting as a location. I love the fact that it starts as a city with forment in the streets. The priestess overcome by the slaves is powerful… as well as the disgust of the party. I agree that Alissa is a great character!
 


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