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Pathfinder Campaign Setting: Distant Shores (PFRPG)Paizo Inc.
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A great sampler platter beyond the Inner SeaJoelF847 (RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16) —
Distant Shores whets the appetite for more, but gives 6 locations on 6 continents a write up, each chock full of adventure ideas and built in conflict. I particularly liked the evil Hobgoblin capitol city in Tian Xia, and Segada the gateway city to Arcadia. The first because it provides a worthy for for the already somewhat detailed Dragon Empires continent, and the later because it literally acts as a gate blocking the interior of the continent, making it a natural site for colonists and explorers looking to go where none have before (from the Inner Sea at least).
Radripal and Ular Kel build upon the scattered lore already seeded in the campaign setting for Vudra and Casmaron, while Aylyosos provides a setting in need of new mythic heroes as their home grown source of them hasn't proven up to the challenge lately.
I was intrigued by Anuli, the most Northern city of Southern Garund, but wasn't as grabbed by how to use a primarily stable city run by empyreal worshiping good and honest folk, especially when their primary foil is the necromantic nation of Geb, but Geb already has Nex set up as their primary allies. I can see adding Anuli to the conflict as a strategic ally for Nex, or safe haven retreating from Nex, but I had been hoping for something more exotic for Southern Garund, after the years of hints that the further south you travel, the weirder things get.
Overall though, this is a great supplement which stretches beyond the more detailed borders of the primary campaign setting.
High Adventure, Mystery, Threats to the world itself! What's not to love?JoelF847 (RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16) —
The fifth Radovan and Varian book sees the duo visit the city of Korvosa, where Varian tries to find out why the local wizard's college, the Acadamae never told him he was a sorcerer and not a wizard, after learning that his decades of frustration at not being to cast spells was revealed to be because he wasn't a wizard after all. Once there, he finds himself drawn into a mystery surrounding the death of an old colleague and a dangerous magical tome. As he investigates, he's drawn into events involving far more than mysterious tome, with ties to some of the most ancient and powerful wizards ever to walk the face of Golarion.
Radovan provides his usual counterpoint to Varian's refined and intellectual point of view, and their almost opposite natures continues to cement their strong friendship, despite clashes over the book's growing influence over Varian. Along the way, they finally encounter something Radovan's devilish good looks and charm can't handle: more ladies than he can possible juggle at once. Lord of Runes introduces a large cast of new characters who prove more than capable of holding their own against the strong personalities of Radovan and Varian and are a welcome addition to their "social circle". There's also a few characters who are old rather than new, with cameos and major roles for some of the earliest characters from the Pathfinder game world, and sure to delight fans of the game. Their inclusion doesn't in any way detract from the self contained nature of the story in the novel, however, so readers who have never played Pathfinder won't find themselves lost. In addition to full fledged characters who appear in the book, there's a good number of references and Easter eggs throughout the book about other events in the gameworld, which adds some fun depth to the setting, similar to how the interconnected Marvel TV and movie universe gives shout outs to events occurring in other stories. (There's even a great RPG Superstar reference!)
In addition to providing an action packed fantasy adventure, Lord of Runes deeply explores the depths of Varian's history and personality, as well as the strength of his relationship with Radovan. By the book's end, things are irrevocably changed between them. As always, I'm looking forward to the next installment of the series to see where things go next (though after using Prince, Master, Queen, King, and Lord, I wonder if Dave is running out of first words that are ranks of social station for titles. Maybe Jack of ____ or Emperor of _____ next?)
Another great R&V adventureJoelF847 (RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16) —
Dave Gross does it again! Another excellent entry in the adventures of Radovan and Varian, and the Pathfinder Tales series as a whole. This time picks up about a year after the previous book, Queen of Thorns, and has R&V heading to the Worldwound, a land plagued by demons. Along the way, the re-unite with their companion Oparal, the elf paladin, who gets promoted this time around to a main POV character. It was especially amusing reading her views on both R&V. Not as amusing as the third POV character from Master of Devils, but still a good addition. In addition, Gross weaves in an interesting cast of supporting characters, while combining elements from past books and stories in a way still very accessible to a new reader.
While the plot involves seeking a rare tome of twisted magic that might be able to help close the portal to the abyss that the demons are invading through, the core of the story is really about pushing the main characters to their limits and having them discover hidden truths about their innate natures. At the end of the book, there are some major changes to the characters (while still keeping true to their personalities.) I eagerly look forward to the next book, to see how these changes are further developed. I'm predicting either "Emperor" or "Ace" as part of the title.
The continuing adventures of Varian and Radovan continue, this time as they journey to the elven realm of Kyonin to get Varian's family heirloom carraige repaired. Of course, the duo are unable to travel to exotic lands without getting entangled in mysteries of the past and conspiracies of the current day. Along the way, they have to deal with spiteful and capricious elves, rabid demons, and a hidden power deep in the elven forrest. The alternating point of view chapters between Varian and Radovan provide a deeper insight into their characters, and a varied outlook on the other characters. Both are exceeding entertaining narrators with different views of the world as well as unique senses of humor, as Dave Gross provides another excellent dive into the world of Golarion with great attention to detail for both the lore of the world, and keeping within and building upon the Pathfinder RPG system rules. I'm also happy to say that this time around Varian and Radovan spend the entire book together, rather than having separate but interlinked stories.
Master of CharactersJoelF847 (RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16) —
Dave Gross hit another home run with Master of Devils. This next full length novel adventure of Radovan and Count Jeggare takes things to a whole new level. The book sends them to another continent, where they must not only deal with the challenges before them, but with an entirely different culture, deriving from a very different fantasy tradition than the western fantasy roots that they are used to.
This is true not only for them, but for most readers (myself included.) While I know some of the basics of Asian fantasy and mythology, I'm unfamiliar with most of the details. That being said, Master of Devils did a wonderful job of taking the unfamiliar, and making it both accessible and exciting. By having the main characters be fish out of water as well, it allowed them to voice some of the common reactions that a reader more familiar with western fantasy would. When Radovan realizes that his mentor/companion Burning Cloud Devil's use of the word "heroes" doesn't match the definition he's used to, he says so, just like the reader does. It's like having a guide to the land of Tian Xia who is learning about it and confused by it along with the reader, but has to make sense of it to get along. Master of Devils seems to hit all of the main tropes I'm familiar with, from hopping undead, courtly intrigue, acrobatic martial arts using many exotic weapon (monk's spade for the win!), nature spirits, supernatural martial arts powers with poetic names, and more.
Also, Dave again does an exemplary job of staying true to the game mechanics of the RPG, without them being intrusive to the story, and seeming to simply be a natural part of the world. For game based fiction, this is a huge plus, and really helps add to the verisimilitude of the world and game, both in the novel and when playing the RPG.
This novel also sees the continued use of the alternating POV characters each chapter, like its predecessor, Prince of Wolves. While some are put off by that, for me, it allows a more intimate view of the main characters, and gives the reader twice the insight as to the situation they're in. Also, in this book, a new 3rd POV character is presented, which was a great surprise, and is now my new favorite character. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but Dave nailed the POV perfectly - I kept wanting to speed through the Radovan and Jeggare chapters to hurry to every 5th chapter for more of this character and their adventures. While I do like the different POV chapters, the one thing that is missing is having more time when Radovan and Jeggare are working together. They spend almost the entire book separated. I hope the next book (there will be a next one, right?) has more time with them together, but alternating the POV, since they make such an interesting team, with very different perspectives and approaches to life.
A great introduction to the Tales line....JoelF847 (RPG Superstar 2008 Top 32, 2011 Top 16) —
Gross has written several shared world books before, for the Dungeons and Dragons Forgotten Realms setting, and in Prince of Wolves, he has refined his craft.
Thrilling fights and magic? Check.
In addition to all of these critical elements to a great story, Gross writes for adults. This isn't dumbed down fantasy to appeal to the lowest common denominator, or sanitized to be kid-friendly (not that it's unfriendly to kids, though). His characters are adults, and they have adult interests and problems. They drink too much. They can be crude/uncomfortable talking about sex or with members of the opposite sex. They have a hard time overcoming their own personal demons. And, he manages to do all of this without sacrificing the exciting action and mystery elements that makes the book feel like a wonderful mix of Indiana Jones (the good ones) and Conan the Barbarian.
Another way that Gross presents twice as much detail about the world is by splitting the point of view throughout the book. Each of the two main characters alternates chapters as the primary point of view character, and describes events in the first person, which gives two very distinct views on the world, and their adventures. It's pretty easy to tell the characters apart, as one is a rough and tumble hellspawn street thug, and the other is a half elven aristocrat, witch gives them very different views of the world around them.
Finally, as a novel set in a game world, Gross does a great job of writing within the rules of the world (how magic, monsters, and other 'rules' work). At the same time, he doesn't go out of his way to point out just which rules he's using. There's a character who's described as a cleric, and witch. All of her powers and abilities in the book could be re-created using those rules from the Pathfinder game, not to mention as an oracle (which I happen to think is a better fit, even though it's not mentioned in the book at all.) However, it's never made clear in the book, or to the characters, exactly which one of those is correct. While it's great to the reader that the book conforms to the game rules, at the same time, it's not even apparent to the other characters in the book that there are game rules that define their lives, and that's the best way to write a successful book based on a game.