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T O P I C    R E V I E W
VikingLegion Posted - 24 May 2015 : 07:34:09
Greetings fellow Realms enthusiasts,

Several years ago I made a goal to read *every* novel from the major D&D worlds/settings. After blasting through the smaller libraries of Darksun, Ravenloft, and Planescape, I decided to tackle Dragonlance. Just recently I finished my 166th and final Dragonlance book. And now I have my sights set on the Forgotten Realms, a no-doubt Herculean task that will make DL easy by comparison.

As I finish each book I plan make a post in this thread. Some may be quite lengthy, others only a sentence or three, all depending on how deeply the story resonated with me and/or its greater importance in Realms lore. This is not a "book club" attempt, in that I won't be holding to any set schedule or waiting for others to finish a particular book. My pace is roughly one 300 page book per week, though occasionally I go on a torrid streak and can sometimes double that. So I won't limit my reading so others can read along with. That being said, I heartily encourage fellow Candlekeepers to jump right in with their own commentary. This can be a fun, nostalgic for some, trip through the history of the novel line. My only rules are thus:

1. I will make no attempt to hide spoilers for books as I finish them, so reader beware. This shouldn't pose much of a problem, as the material (in the early going specifically) is close to 30 years old.
2. Please, please, please, when discussing a book I've read, do NOT divulge spoilers that may occur further down the line as a result of said book.
3. Keep it civil. There are some author's writing styles that turn me off a bit, and I won't be shy about saying so, but it will be done in a manner that isn't toxic bashing.

My order of reading is going to loosely follow publishing date. I say loosely, because I will (early and often) deviate from this order when it makes sense, such as finishing up a series, or staying within a certain theme/region/etc. With that said, I began this endeavor with 1987's Darkwalker on Moonshae.
25   L A T E S T    R E P L I E S    (Newest First)
Kellemonster Posted - 13 Nov 2019 : 05:46:38
Put aside the illogic of the larger plot. What didn't you like about dissolution? I thought it captured the nature of a drow city and the implications of the existence of powerful magic and a crazed evil goddess would have on a society very well.
Irennan Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 21:25:59
quote:
Originally posted by Wooly Rupert

I really didn't understand what the main characters were expected to accomplish, either. "Oh, hey, our goddess, who lives in another plane of existence, is not talking to us, and there is no possible way for a city full of priestesses and wizards to get information! So you guys walk to the next city and see why Lolth has fallen silent."



If I'm not mistaken (and I may very well be, long time since I've read any FR novel), there was an angle about the thing being just an excuse for Gromph and Triel to get potential rivals away from them, and potentially killed. But yeah, I see your point.
Wooly Rupert Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 21:17:41
I really didn't understand what the main characters were expected to accomplish, either. "Oh, hey, our goddess, who lives in another plane of existence, is not talking to us, and there is no possible way for a city full of priestesses and wizards to get information! So you guys walk to the next city and see why Lolth has fallen silent."
Irennan Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 20:24:09
quote:
Originally posted by sleyvas

What I found "interesting" was that she essentially created a new divine realm created to realmspace and discarded her links to the abyss, and then as far as I can tell she's back to being a "demon lord" without any explanations at all. The continuity on THAT was all over the place. Also, she was split into multiple identities, yet they're all one again. I don't even think we ever found out anything really about all of the "identities" within her. The one thing that this could be used for though is that whenever Lolth does something literally insane to people looking at plot... you can explain it away as her multiple personalities at war with each other to try and drive their individual goals forward. Lolth is essentially suffering from dissociative identity disorder (which totally fits her role as a goddess of chaos).



The continuity in WotSQ is all over the place too. You have Lolth's plan, and therefore the cause of the whole plot, making absolutely no sense and contradicting everything we know about the way divinity works in FR (not to mention being nonsensical from a logical standpoint too). On a side note, I don't understand why Lolth tearing her realm free from the Abyss is relevant. Nothing substantial changed, except a label. The conflicting identities thing could have been intriguing but, as usual, intriguing plot lines about drow get discarded in favor of keeping them about Lolth, Drizzt and nothing but more of the same.

Smedman/Athans also give a completely warped portrayal of Eilistraee&followers, in direct contradiction with her lore and with Elaine's portrayal of her, as already discussed in this thread (though, to be fair, Baker's portrayal of them in Condemnation, if very limited, doesn't suffer from this)
sleyvas Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 19:43:33
What I found "interesting" was that she essentially created a new divine realm created to realmspace and discarded her links to the abyss, and then as far as I can tell she's back to being a "demon lord" without any explanations at all. The continuity on THAT was all over the place. Also, she was split into multiple identities, yet they're all one again. I don't even think we ever found out anything really about all of the "identities" within her. The one thing that this could be used for though is that whenever Lolth does something literally insane to people looking at plot... you can explain it away as her multiple personalities at war with each other to try and drive their individual goals forward. Lolth is essentially suffering from dissociative identity disorder (which totally fits her role as a goddess of chaos).
Wooly Rupert Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 18:45:49
quote:
Originally posted by Kellemonster

Even the first book of wotsq didn't do it for you? I'll admit it keeps going down hill from there (Kemp tries to salvage what was left)



For me, the series approached being interesting about halfway through the fourth or fifth book... but quickly backed down from that high point.

Aside from Aliisza and Pharaun, I really didn't like any of the characters, and I thought that as a group, they did a remarkable job of demonstrating the Chaotic Stupid alignment. I found their entire quest to be pointless, what Lolth was doing utterly non-sensical (Seriously, becoming more powerful by ignoring your worshippers and engaging in auto-cannibalism?), and the shifting characterizations from book to book -- especially that of the draegloth, who went from servile to sneering rebelliousness just like that -- to be very jarring. Danifae went from potentially interesting to one of the worst possible characters. The battle with Gromph and that other drow took far, far too long (and the thing with the eyes was just weird), kind of like a joke where the teller keeps repeating the punchline long after all the laughter has faded.

I think some proper editing could have smoothed out some of those rough edges, but the series did not get that editing...

And I think the entire point of the series wasn't to tell a story or to add to the setting or anything like that -- I think it was purely about putting more money in WotC's pockets. Yes, that's always an objective, but prior novels were adding something to the setting *and* making money for the company. Considering that this was a six-book non-event, I think the only objective was "hey, let's sell some more stuff by slapping drow on it!" And I think that's why the series suffered -- because all WotC cared about was the income, and not about doing it right.
Kellemonster Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 17:44:04
Even the first book of wotsq didn't do it for you? I'll admit it keeps going down hill from there (Kemp tries to salvage what was left)
Wooly Rupert Posted - 12 Nov 2019 : 05:00:00
I always cringe when I see praise for the War of the Spider Queen books... Ye gods, I could not stand that series.

My issue with Ed's fiction hasn't been any of the other stuff people are mentioning. For me, it's just that I feel I've walked in on the middle of a movie. I get that the Realms is a vibrant place with a lot going on, but for me, showing this in a series of one-off vignettes that are unrelated to the main plot just pulls focus away from the main plot. And it's the same when the protagonist casually stumbles across multiple trysts/conspiring groups/random battles in the span of minutes.

I'd rather see a couple of subplots that get discovered during the course of the main plot and then developed further, rather than the brief flashes of unrelated events all happening simultaneously and in close proximity to each other.
Kellemonster Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 22:42:05
It was always hard for me to get a real feel for the realms from the novels. We had the Troy "Death Star" Denning superhero realms, the Greenwood "magic in the realms is 5-15x more complicated with mantles, reshaping spells, etc. than they will let me put in a sourcebook but still everyone is flawed and shortsighted" realms, the RA Salvatore "wizards barely exist" realms, and the Byers "let's make the realms a less tongue in cheek order of the stick." (yes, with, in my mind, Kemp being the perfect blend of all of this).

I get that there are different authorial styles that go into all of this, but I think the problem goes beyond that. At the core, I have a hard time putting these different narratives into a shared world with a shared "(meta)physics".

If I had to pick a non-Kemp book that would exemplify what would be "core" realms, for the pre-3.x, it would be Cormyr (I agree with OP that Cormyr's dual authorship leads to the sum being more than its parts) or Dissolution. As different as the "power level" and tone of these books is from the other, I can see them both as being within the same universe. Dissolution also provides as great narrative reason why it's about such powerful people (crack team of elite drow dealing with an epic level quest).
Seravin Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 21:43:40
Volo's Guides are the best content ever, in my opinion, and I would buy anything he published like that at a great cost (Volo's Guide to the Moonsea please!) - but his novels are an acquired taste.

I was SOOOOOO excited about the Knights of Myth Drannor series - 1348 era story of how the Knights met and became a force - but the execution of that amazing premise was so hard to read and made no sense (well documented in this thread my thoughts!). Ed's an amazing world builder obviously and his sourcebooks are my faves (along with Jeff Grubb). But his novels are best used as lore information.

sleyvas Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 20:54:39
You know, I wonder though how much of a lot of these products is Ed versus other authors and he helps. For instance, I never realized that Serpent Kingdoms was an Ed product (I have a bad habit of not paying attention to who authored what game product, except that I tend to notice Eric Boyd's or Steven Schend's stuff as being theirs for some reason, and I've noted Krash whenever its anything Impilture). Hell, I wonder if in the end if the authors themselves can separate out who wrote what.
Kellemonster Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 18:49:11
And that's the thing, right? My favorite source book ever is serpent kingdoms, an Ed Greenwood masterpiece. So much lore, that pulls together so many deep questions about this world.

It's funny, my mad mage group includes some other 30-somethings, some of whom know 5e very well, others completely new, and one guy, around 50, who has played tons of dnd, but never got into the realms. I start sharing 3.x lore (which is what I cut my teeth on in high school) and all of them are eating it up saying "give me more!"

It really bugs me that 5th edition hides all the lore within adventures okay I am the DM for two different groups right now so it's unlikely I'm going to have time to play much in the near future. But I should not have to ruin The narrative of a potential adventure to learn about the 5th edition realms.

So much I think is just assumed that the only people that really care about the realms will just continue to play either old grey box 3.x.

It is as if wizards of the coast are afraid to publish any more novels or they just did the math and it wasn't profitable. Either way it's sad to see something that you've loved and grown up with on life support.

I have always had a hard time with getting into any Forgotten Realms books pre-Cormyr. When I was say, 12, I could get into the Elminster series, and the Avatar trilogy, but ugh, re-reading those now? Barf. Looking back, it was only their value as potential sources of information, not value as works of literature that mattered to me.

Sorry to highjack this thread, feel free to delete if you want, I mostly needed to get this out of my system and confront my own conflicted feelings about the realms.

It is such a good setting overall. But with a lot of flaws when you scratch the surface.
Wooly Rupert Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 14:53:02
quote:
Originally posted by Kellemonster

I've been a candlekeep forums lurker 4 about 15 years or more since maybe my sophomore year of college. I cannot agree more with the author of this thread. What I find surprising is that this thread has been able to exist on this forum with the opinion given about Ed Greenwood's novel writing which I agree is pretty bad especially the juvenile sex parts and the Mary Sues.


We tolerate dissenting opinions, so long as people are respectful.

I myself have said, multiple times, that while I am in awe of Ed as a world-builder, his fiction just doesn't work for me.
Seravin Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 08:41:59
Much as I agree with you Kellemonster; I don't want the Realms to be dead - but at this point the best we can hope is that the Forgotten Realms IP gets sold by WotC and a hard reboot to the OGB era happens on the launch from the new company, in my opinion.
Kellemonster Posted - 11 Nov 2019 : 08:20:58
I've been a candlekeep forums lurker 4 about 15 years or more since maybe my sophomore year of college. I cannot agree more with the author of this thread. What I find surprising is that this thread has been able to exist on this forum with the opinion given about Ed Greenwood's novel writing which I agree is pretty bad especially the juvenile sex parts and the Mary Sues.

Kemp is clearly the best writer that the forgotten realms has ever seen and I don't just say that because I'm also a lawyer.

I abandoned this place shortly after fourth edition it's only in the last 12 months or so that I have even cared about 5th edition d&d and then it took me until I started doing my second campaign on my primary campaigns off weeks where I decided to do mad mage in an attempt to not prep as much as for my Homebrew second Punic war campaign that I even thought about the realms outside of Kemp's novels for the first time in many years.

It is sad to see what has happened to this place. I remember checking these forums almost every day back in college and there would be new and interesting post in many of the sub forums. Earlier this week when I came back here out of curiosity I found this thread and read through it and then looked on YouTube about various thoughts about the forgotten realms and we have Jordan the pH is silent with his 10 minute videos covering topics that should take 3 hours to talk about and that is the most original content that exists these days other than Salvatore.

Just tonight I watched the 2012 and 2013 Gen Con forgotten realms panels wow did they lie to everyone or switched course so badly that they might have well as lied to everyone. It's sad there is no reason to even look at new 5th edition materials on mad mage I find myself having to fix it more than use it and taking more inspiration from 3.x and earlier editions and those sourcebooks then the thin gruel that we are provided today.

They should just take the realms out back and shoot it in the head as opposed to keeping this malnourished cur alive in this state.

Wooly Rupert Posted - 09 Nov 2019 : 15:49:07
quote:
Originally posted by Irennan

WotC had already started slowing down the novel releases back when the Sundering started. Now they've killed the line and only RAS is allowed to write. However, he's only got 1 book left, then the line will probably be dead and buried until WotC decides it can be resurrected.

Losing Kemp for refusing to pay him the market standard was just sh*tty of them.



They nearly lost RAS, back in the day, too, for similar reasons.
Irennan Posted - 09 Nov 2019 : 14:15:07
WotC had already started slowing down the novel releases back when the Sundering started. Now they've killed the line and only RAS is allowed to write. However, he's only got 1 book left, then the line will probably be dead and buried until WotC decides it can be resurrected.

Losing Kemp for refusing to pay him the market standard was just sh*tty of them.
VikingLegion Posted - 09 Nov 2019 : 13:35:54
Yeah Riven really came a long way as a character. Not unlike Artemis Entreri, he went from completely irredeemable sociopathic antagonist, to reluctant ally, to maybe something approaching friendship. I really like his affection for dogs, particularly strays, it's just little touches like that that humanize and bring out the extra dimension to a character.

The battle of Riven(/Mask?) and his undead Shadowfell hordes against Mephistopheles and his devil legions was absolutely terrific. You're right in that it's a terrible shame this story wasn't allowed to continue. I'm looking at all the books I have left to read in FR and the variety is somewhat lacking:

Evans
Byers
Greenwood
Denning
Salvatore
Salvatore
Evans
Salvatore
Greenwood
Salvatore
Evans
Salvatore
Evans
Salvatore
Greenwood
Salvatore
Salvatore

So with the small exceptions of one Byers and one Denning, the remainder of the Realms is down to just 3 voices. I know for many of the old-schoolers, the Realms are Ed's creation and whatever matches most closely to his original vision is the strength of the setting. But for me, the beauty of the Forgotten Realms comes from the tapestry of so many different ideas and perspectives - from game designers to authors to cartographers and everything else - woven together to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Yes, consistency was sometimes a nightmare, but I loved the heyday when 12+ authors could each set up camp in a different region and create their own sandboxes, with the occasional large story arc spanning over the setting in its entirety just to remind us all that it's one big, breathing, living place. Ok, enough of this nostalgia, it is what it is.
Madpig Posted - 07 Nov 2019 : 06:32:21
quote:
Originally posted by VikingLegion

Agree with everything you guys are saying. The whole event lacks clarity and requires the reader to do extra research or just shrug their shoulders and say "OK, I guess this is what's happening now..."

I finished Godborn a couple days ago. With all due respect to the other fine writers I've come across, Kemp seems to be on an entirely different plane of existence. This book had me utterly enthralled by page 5. The spellscarred brothers were particularly horrifying, but nearly everything in this book just worked for me. He will join a very select group of authors who I will follow outside of the D&D multiverse to check out their other works. I took almost zero notes on this one, I just couldn't be bothered to put it down long enough to jot any thoughts down.

That's not to say I didn't find some nitpicks. Some of the names were clumsy. Also Gerak, a simple farmsman with a non-magical bow somehow guns down demons and all manner of highly magical creatures with seeming ease. But that aside, this was another gem from Kemp. What a shame WotC didn't think his services were worth retaining.

Up next, book 3 of the Sundering: The Adversary.




I think that Godborn being cut to only one book is biggest crime that Wizbro ever comited towards us readers. (2nd is that we will never get followup on this book). It was originally supposed to be full trilogy. It shows sometimes during the book.

And Kemps exellent writing also shines through on scenes where Riven has like identity crisis, when he tries to remember what Mask originally did plan.

On the sidenote it would be interesting discussion on what Rivens aligment would be at the end. I think he's original writeup was either CE or NE. I would lean towards LE, as he definetely is having honor and he does keep wows and promises he has given.
VikingLegion Posted - 06 Nov 2019 : 23:23:53
Agree with everything you guys are saying. The whole event lacks clarity and requires the reader to do extra research or just shrug their shoulders and say "OK, I guess this is what's happening now..."

I finished Godborn a couple days ago. With all due respect to the other fine writers I've come across, Kemp seems to be on an entirely different plane of existence. This book had me utterly enthralled by page 5. The spellscarred brothers were particularly horrifying, but nearly everything in this book just worked for me. He will join a very select group of authors who I will follow outside of the D&D multiverse to check out their other works. I took almost zero notes on this one, I just couldn't be bothered to put it down long enough to jot any thoughts down.

That's not to say I didn't find some nitpicks. Some of the names were clumsy. Also Gerak, a simple farmsman with a non-magical bow somehow guns down demons and all manner of highly magical creatures with seeming ease. But that aside, this was another gem from Kemp. What a shame WotC didn't think his services were worth retaining.

Up next, book 3 of the Sundering: The Adversary.
Irennan Posted - 02 Nov 2019 : 16:18:42
They literally used "God did it" as an explanation. Now, I totally agree with bringing back stuff, but write novels, or at least an anthology of short stories, about it.
Seravin Posted - 02 Nov 2019 : 15:45:01
It irked me when they brought Bane back in 3rd edition without any novel explanation (or even really a sourcebook explanation). But yeah the explanations from 4th to 5th are extremely handwaved. The nations and gods are just "back" and all your fave characters you thought died were just in stasis or being reincarnated or magically don't age.
Irennan Posted - 02 Nov 2019 : 15:25:09
quote:
Originally posted by Seravin

This book really bluntly points out how badly 4E was received by the fans and instead of a return to OGB era, they basically just Deus Ex Machina to make things as much like they were before the Spellplague without erasing the 100 year time skip as they could.




The worst part about this is that they didn't even bother to put it all in novels. The vast majority of things, like certain gods (or whole nations) coming back happened offscreen, while The Sundering novels focused on so little of what was actually going on, that you might wonder why they were even called like that. The Companions had literally nothing to do with the event, for example.
Seravin Posted - 02 Nov 2019 : 11:08:11
I really liked Regis's arc, he's finally worthy of joining the Companions in the fighting side of things. What did you think of Wulfgar's re-birth? If I was him I'd have been a bit annoyed at being pulled back into the life cycle when he'd earned his warrior's rest in the halls of Tempus or what not? I think they made it out like he's fine to do this twice because he knows what's waiting when this cycle is done...but maybe misremembering this.

This book really bluntly points out how badly 4E was received by the fans and instead of a return to OGB era, they basically just Deus Ex Machina to make things as much like they were before the Spellplague without erasing the 100 year time skip as they could.

I would have much preferred a return to the 1350s then what we got, personally, but that's a grognard for you.
VikingLegion Posted - 02 Nov 2019 : 10:38:41
I finished The Companions several days ago but didn't have time for a writeup. What a crazy book, this felt like one of the oddest offerings I've seen from RAS. I can see now that this Sundering is basically just a reboot so we can dispense with all that poorly received 4e stuff. RAS bringing back all his old characters via a Mielikki sanctioned rebirth feels heavily contrived and strains credibility, but at the same time I have to feel for authors that have the entire world blown up and advanced 100 years by some corporate suit that wants to stimulate product sales. It must really suck for the writers to have to abandon long-running plotlines to shoehorn the latest decision from up high into their stories, so Bob gets a free pass on this from me.

So.... the strangest aspect for me was that the Muppet Babies are each sent back into the world as newborns, but have FULL AWARENESS right out of the gate. One would think part of Mielikki's boon would be an initial wipe of their memories, and a gradual recovery as they grow - like maybe as Bruenor begins his combat training he starts to recall a specific maneuver, which leads to other memories unlocking, etc. Nope, here we have the crew in their infant bodies, all ready and impatient to begin training but essentially locked into their baby prisons. It made for some moments of levity for sure, but can you imagine the awkwardness of it all? And just think about sex drive; having all your memories and adult feelings/cravings about the opposite sex (or same, if that's what you're into) but being in this tiny infant or toddler body that is unable to act on anything, it would be maddening! Or perhaps, due to a lack of the proper hormones, that drive would be tempered, if not absent entirely. Still, that first moment that Baby Bruenor is being lifted towards his new mother's gigantic boob, it definitely made me think how weird growing up would be under these circumstances.

I had wondered why Bob took this road as opposed to the gradual rediscovery of memories I had mentioned, and then a cynical thought hit me; this way they essentially gain TWO lifetimes of xp and can become even more epic champions. Imagine being able to have a full re-do of your life, but still retain every skill you've already acquired. You could become twice as good at what you already do (like Bruenor during his combat training) or you could branch out into other disciplines (multiclass) like Cattie-brie. I mean, if you're going to jump the shark with mega-powered up super heroes, might as well shoot for the moon and make them virtual demigods, right?

Speaking of Cat.... I don't think RAS has a clue what he wants to do with this character and hasn't for some time. She's gone from pure archer only, to swordfighter (understandable, she wanted to round out her warrior game for those times when range fighting is impossible). Then she got injured and became a full-on mage under Lady Alustriel's tutelage. Now she is some kind of spell-scarred druid/priestess/wizard dual-Chosen of Mielikki and Mystra. It's getting a little far-fetched... Her arc was my least favorite by far. Every time I started a new chapter and saw it was about her, it felt like the "Sansa" chapters when reading A Song of Ice and Fire.

Bruenor's arc had a very interesting twist. After intentionally fumbling his way through early sparring bouts so as not to give away his prowess, he finally gives up and goes all in, taking on his entire class at the same time and trouncing them all easily. He's viewed as a wunderkind/prodigy type and instantly promoted up the ranks. His renunciation of the dwarven gods and uncontrollable anger was a nice twist that brought some extra nuance to his tale. But back to the training sessions, this is RAS at his finest. It brought back the same memories I had of a young Drizzt training with Zak, or taking on the other students at Melee Magthere. I really enjoyed these chapters.

Regis was another interesting case. Given a second chance at growing up, he vows to not be the 5th wheel that is always in need of rescue. He purposely puts himself in harms way and challenges himself to become braver, tougher, more resourceful. I thought it was a little weird/unnecessary to give him some water genasi blood this time around, that didn't seem to fit. But all the rest - the thief training, the fencing lessons, the alchemy gadgets, the spymaster/ James Bond stuff, and of course the insanely powerful magical items he's managed to gather on this go-around - have all combined to create a much more confident, competent, suave, and effective "Spider" instead of the cowardly Regis that always needed a rescue. This was a fun and much-needed reinvention of the character, though he frustratingly got himself nearly killed after getting to Ten Towns and needed to be rescued by Cat. *sigh*

There was a dwarf trainer named Murgatroid Stonehammer. Dear gods... why? /Tangent On: I just spent 10 minutes looking up the etymology and genealogy of the name Murgatroid (John of Moor Gate Royde). Interesting, but still... such a clumsy name. Still better than Cordio Muffinhead though. Maybe I'll change my handle on this site to Murgatroid Muffinhead. /Tangent Off

Lastly, as much as the Harpells annoy me, it was fun in a way to see Longsaddle again. Same with the brief inclusion of the hamlet of Auckney. This felt like very indulgent, nostalgiac writing, but I enjoyed the "Greatest Hits" tour around northwest Faerun. Up next, I'll continue the Sundering series with Paul S. Kemp's Godborn.




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