Shining South is the latest sourcebook in the regional sourcebooks for the Forgotten Realms campaign. This time, the coverage is vast. We have Dambrath, Estagund, the Shining Lands, Halruaa, Luiren, the Shaar, the Great Rift, and various Border Areas like the Duskwood and Firesteap Mountains. Prior to all that ‘fluff’ though, we get the crunch of the book.
Shining South starts off with the races and regions of this land. Regions are important as they tie into the concept of regional feats. For those who’ve never heard of them, regional feats are first level feats that you take to represent your connection to a specific region. Often, these feats are slightly more useful or powerful than standard feats.
Each section starts with regions, racial feats, history, outlook, characters, society, language, literacy, magic, spellcasting, magic items, deities, relations, and equipment. That’s a lot of detail. The good thing is that it makes looking up each race a snap. If you want to know how the typical Halruaan acts or flip to the new races, the elephantine humanoids the loxo or the mantis men known as the thri-kreen. The interesting thing about the thri-kreen is that they include the information about psionic powers so that if you’re using the Expanded Psionics Handbook, you can use those powers. However, if you have the Expanded Psionics Handbook, this is a waste of space as the thri-kreen are already in that book. All the necessary details for the new races like age, height and weight are included. They even break it down by class.
All of the regions are detailed in terms of benefits as well. This includes automatic languages, bonus languages, regional feats, and bonus equipment. Most of the regional feats referenced in this section are from the Player’s Guide to Faerun so you’ll still need that book to get the most out of this book.
After the regions are described, it goes right into the new feats. Some of these are simple evolution of existing fats like Allied Defense, where you have to have Combat Expertise and you give any allies in the adjacent areas the same bonus as yours. Others are innate to this region like Tall Mouth Hunter, a Halfling feat that provides a bonus against aberrations as well as improved critical threat against those enemies. As you might be able to tell, the Halflings fight a lot of aberrations here. One thing that bothered me was that they have an Initiate feat here (of Loviatar) that provides different spells for the caster. In my opinion, all these Initiate feats should be collected and contained in one place. Perhaps a FR style book with all the new domains and abilities from Initiate Feats in one place as opposed to a feat here and another one there.
In terms of PrCs, they do a few things that surprise me. First there aren’t a lot of them, clocking in at 9. Second, they’re almost all five level PrCs. I know that five level PrCs aren’t unusual, but they usually aren’t in the majority. Some of these fit into the region like the Halruaan Elder, a spellcaster from Halruaan that continues to advance in his arcane mastery even as he learns new Signature Spells or the Luiren (Halfling) Marchwarden, a defender of his home country’s frontier. Lastly, I was impressed that they didn’t reprint certain classes, but note how those classes would work in this area. Let’s take the Great Sea Corsair which notes their background and details, that the user should use either Song and Silence of the upcoming Complete Adventurer, and what adjustments need to be made. How about adapting the Sacred Fist from the Complete Divine for the Hin Fist, monks of Yondalla? It’s covered. As with several other recent books, sample NPCs are provided for the GMs use. Unfortunately, these are just stats with no background, something that would probably be just as useful in a regional sourcebook.
Now for a region with a mage country in it, the spell selection, some odd thirty three spells, seems somewhat weak. This is mainly because we have a small selection of divine spells, clerics, druids, paladins, and rangers, but mainly because we don’t have a lot of arcane spells. They have a spell or three for each level and some, like 8th level arcane spells, have none. Now that doesn’t scream country of magic to me.
Still, the new selections have some variety to them. Take Coral Growth, a 3rd level druid spell that causes coral to grow and the caster controls the shape of it. Useful for creating those walls. Probably of more interest to most would be Daltim’s Fiery Tentacles, a spell that’s basically Evard’s Black Tentacles, but also inflicts fire damage. For those looking to really knock down the enemy, try Tidal Wave, the only 9th level spell in the book. It creates a huge wall of water that pretty much destroys anything in its path.
In terms of magic items, we have several new special abilities like blinking. This armor property allows the user to blink as the blink spell. Some might be more interested in the Healing property, an ability that heals 20 points of damage automatically when the character using the item is reduced to disabled or dying status. Other items like the Pick of Piercing are used to destroy objects of force while other general items like the Amulet of Proof Against Petrification, save the user from turning to stone.
All in all it’s a fair selection of magic items. By providing more abilities, the book allows the GM to create his own unique magic items even as he adds those already provided. One of my biggest disappointments with this section though, is the material on Halruaan Skyships. They pretty much rise and fall at a speed of 45 feet. Not a lot of description for something on the cover of the book. Thankfully, we still have Bastion’s Air Ships, an excellent sourcebook for flying ships.
Now GM’s are probably hoping that there’s something for them here. Well, there are several new monsters here including a Halruaan Behir, a smaller version of the standard monsters, a new dragon type, the Rattelyr, a wingless dragon with a cone of fire for it’s breath weapon. In some ways, it reminds me a little of the old Cobra Dragon, but it has it’s own niche. Some of the monsters, like the Cyclopes, are suitable for character play and include racial traits and level adjustments allowing quick use. Those who own the original FR 16 book will recognize some of these creatures like the Laraken and Dark Trees.
Now before it gets into describing the various regions, the book takes a break for a chapter on Campaigns. This includes the various organizations of the south and what they’re currently doing in these regions. We have some individuals like Quinix the Glabrezu, another favorite from the original sourcebook, as well as organizations old like the Church of Loviatar and new, like the Shadow Wizards, an enclave of Halruaa wizards who are using the Shadow Weave. Various Dungeons of the south are mentioned like the old Gate of Iron Fangs and Castle of Al’hanar, but no maps are included of them.
Next up in the tools section, are random encounter tables. Now for me, it’s a mixed blessing. I don’t mind random encounter tables that much as long as they’re small and don’t take up a lot of space. Well, here we have roughly twelve pages and more random tables for the weather. A little too much for me I’m afraid. Still, it’s good to know that should I need it, and I have the book at the table, that those resources are there for me.
After that, it moves into the different regions of the Shining South. Now for me, they organize it a little strange. See, I figure that history would be the first thing that they’d handle out the bat, but instead, we get a paragraph or two of how an outsider might see the country, geographic overview, people of, and politics and power. Under that last one, that’s where we find the history along with timelines. There’s some good news and bad news.
The bad news is that each section, much like the original book, provides quick run downs of so much material that not a lot of information is provided about any one location. That means that when looking at Dambrath, a land that owes fealty to the drow and ruled by half-drow, you see that they have cities like Cathyr, Herath, Maarlith, Purl, and T’lindhet, but don’t get the city statistics for all of them and don’t get maps for most of the cities detailed in the book. The other bad thing is that while you get a few notes on the NPCs of the region, these are extremely abbreviated, name, race, sex, and class.
Some of the history is tweaked a bit. For example, the original FR 16 mentions that Thay might have broke off from Halruaa. Here it’s the mages of Nimbral. In addition, while I’m not the scholar that others are of the Forgotten Realms, I don’t remember the Shaar being populated by the Loxo and the Thri-Kreen. If someone knows when they first made their appearance there, I’d appreciate it.
The good news is that unlike the recent Serpent Kingdoms, we have full page maps of the regions. Further good news is that many of these locals have adventuring potential in them that requires little work. Take Halruaa. A small population in a large area with lots of magic means that they generally have more resources than most countries but because their magic can’t predict everything, they still suffer attacks from those brave enough to unite the hordes of the Bandit Wastes.
The other good news is that material from another old Forgotten Realms book, Dwarves Deep, is updated here as well. We have a nice overview map of the Great Rift, information on the Gold Dwarves, and even the city of Earthheart, a city that uses hippogriffs to defend the Great Rift and communicate with the outside world. It doesn’t update everything but for a book about the Shining South, I wasn’t expecting anything on the dwarves at all so it’s a good deal for me.
For those looking on ways to use this right away, they’ve included three short adventure areas. These aren’t adventures but are sites that can be used by the GM. The first is the Astral Inn, the second, the Bandit Camp of the Reavers, the third, a Dwarf Crypt. Each one mapped and includes full statistics of the important NPCs of the site.
The art and layout are up to the Forgotten Realms standards. Among the artists I noticed, I saw Wayne England, Sam Wood, and one of my favorites, Jason Engle, among others I don’t recognize but whose work stands out well. The graphic design of the book follows in the tradition of other FR books with a yellowed almost cream paper look. Layout is standard two columns with important information boxed away from the main text, but still two-column. Sections tend to follow a little too close together in some instances. For example, neither prestige classes nor monsters get their own page, but then again, I’d rather have a little run on as opposed to perhaps a dozen half pages.
I’d have preferred a little more organization in the book, putting all information on the races with their region for example, but I can understand why the book is put together the way it is. I’d also rather have seen some of the old maps, like the Gate of Iron Fangs, and NPC statistics, than extensive amount of random encounter charts. Those issues are minor though. The book manages to pull together a lot of information on many areas of the Forgotten Realms that haven’t been covered extensively and updates them nicely for the new edition of the rules.
If you’re looking for something a bit different than Waterdeep or the Dalelands for your next Forgotten Realms campaign, The Shining South is calling.