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Dungeons & Dragons RPG: Out of the Abyss HardcoverWizards of the Coast
Our Price: $49.95
I've read through the comments on other boards where a lot of people say, "This is for experienced DMs only." I can mostly agree with that.
However, there comes a point in that range of experience as a DM where you realize just how absolutely horrible this adventure is.
1. Trite. True, I've read a lot of modules. I've written a lot of my own modules. I've also played a lot of video games, so I have a pretty wide spectrum of what has been done before, but there are a few things that happen so often in those areas, that they should only be used with great caution. Starting the characters as prisoners falls under this category. So does having just about every NPC encounter for the first half to the book, leading to them being taken prisoner yet again. (For more on this, see point 2.) I'm not saying that this particular mechanic should not be used at all, but if you're going to do it, show a little more creativity than just rehashing the beginning of Elder Scrolls.
2. Do you even know what CR means? There are multiple points, especially in the first half, were you're told that the chapters can take place in any order. Apparently, that meant that the authors got them mixed up on the editing table and you need to match the level of the party with the level of the encounter. Oh wait, you can't do that because at the very beginning, there are NO encounters matched to the party's level. The writers apparently did realize this however, so they suggest multiple times that you just have the characters taken prisoner again. This lack of understanding of a very basic mechanic never showed up more glaringly than in the random encounter tables. It's simply not possible to write a table that will last through six (or more) adventure levels. The encounters will either be too hard or too easy and very rarely at the level they should be.
3. So much to throw out. I can play up to 20 different NPCs at the same time. With a little bit of advanced preparation (making copies of stuff and writing up stuff for the players) I can make sure that all 20 of your NPCs are given time and fleshed out. But to be honest, that's going to make for a very boring game. ("Well, Bupido, needs to stop for a nature break and the whole time he's doing his business, he's muttering to himself, 'someday they'll all worship me" and while that's happening Stool is trying to blow bubbles.'") A truly experienced DM is going to know, that you need to dump about 80% of the NPCs.
4. Paid by the word, were we? While almost all of the information that you may or may not use is at least interesting, there was at least one point in each chapter that I found myself saying, "Why is this even in here?" There's a bunch of information that isn't even relevant to the adventure. I had the feeling over and over that it would have been better suited (and less confusing) to have placed it in an optional supplement. This is yet another thing that experience can easily overcome--you know what to throw out.
5. Total lack of organization. The breaks for chapters make sense (although do read on to point 6 for more on that). Outside of that, there is no organization to how the material is presented. NPC names and descriptions were usually in a totally different place than where they were encountered, area information was usually in the front of the chapter, but a lot of what you needed to know was scattered throughout. Blingenstone was probably the worst for this.
6. Created by committee to be run by a committee. The chapters don't always agree on their information. Without giving any kind of spoiler, I can safely say that something that was required in Chapter 8 made most of Chapter 9 completely pointless. In the exact same area, 20 mercenaries that are supposed to be going with the PCs from Chapter 8, serve little to no purpose in Chapter 9. Chapter 9 barely even mentions them. But somehow, they magically appear again in Chapter 10.
7. Choo choo! Choo choo! The complaint that a campaign is "on rails" often gets unjustly used. The truth is that there needs to be some framework for the story. The areas where you weren't forced to do things (if you did them like the module said, which eventually I gave up on doing), you had no reason to care about. Allow me to hit this dead horse one more time: Chapter 9. Here is detailed in painstakingly fine, moment to moment planning, a subplot that the characters not only have no reason to care about, but if they did what they were supposed to do in Chapter 8, there is no reason for them to run into anything other than the very tail of end of the event. Two and a half hours of carefully plotting out everything only to realize in the end, that the characters could very easily and logically skip most of it and complete the chapter in under 15 minutes, which they did. The last part of this is a slight spoiler. If you have a guide that is supposed to take you to see someone, then chances are, he's going to take you to see someone, and not stop randomly at a totally different quarter of the city so that you can happen to see something that you most likely won't care about anyway. The only way to get Chapter 9 to be played out was to force the players to go a particular direction. When it came to that, I abstained.
8. The prep time to play time is unacceptable. I purchase pre-generated adventures so that I can spend less time worrying about preparation and more time in actual play. Creating my own content usually is about fifteen minutes to a half hour for every hour of play time, depending on complexity and level. I expect at least that for something I pay for and less would be very nice. Have I mentioned Chapter 9 yet? I have? Well that's a surprise. While most of the module was about 1 hour prep to 1 hour play, that particular chapter managed to be 2 and a half hours of prep for 15 minutes of play. And as I mentioned in comment 4 most of that time could have been reduced by giving me a lot less information. I'm running a campaign, not writing one.
9. Tracking tracking tracking, like a ranger. As some other reviews have mentioned, there's a lot to track. This wasn't a problem for me at all. I has a notepad and a pencil and I can does this. I does this very well. If you don't, you can skip it. It was kind of cool, but not 100% necessary.
10. I'll spare you. There is no number 10.
11. In conclusion. A somewhat experienced DM could have fun with this. A less experienced DM will be totally overwhelmed by this. A very experienced DM is just going to find it out and out annoying. Save your money. Curse of Strahd is much better, although they can still use a little help understanding CR in that one too.
Great for the Money!Tokoz —
I tend to be kind of jaded by anything that anyone "recommends" as a good tool for GMs. By this point, it's not that the advice out there is bad, it's that odds keep getting better and better that I've heard it before.
That doesn't stop me from looking though and in this case, I'm really happy about what I stumbled over.
I'd thought of this idea before... *snort* No, not really. I just wish I had. And that's what makes this pdf so worth the money. Sean Reynolds does a great job of presenting his idea simply and quickly. You're bound to read the first few paragraphs and think to yourself, "Self, why hadn't I thought of this before."
Every improv style GM out there has had those moments when she wants to be able to create a memorable encounter on the fly. Up until reading this, what that meant was having an index in my head of available monsters that I could easily mix and match to form a good encounter.
That's worked for me for time out of mind, but it turns out that is a very two dimensional approach. Filing off the serial numbers adds a third dimension to the mix by letting you take the index in your mind and merge cards.
And for the less improv GMs there's even more to think over. If you usually painstakingly plan out your encounters, the possibilities are even greater.
It's definitely worth the two bucks to add another good tool to your GM toolbox.
My whole family has these. They are the ONLY hats our 18 month old twins will allow on their heads.
Nice and soft! Great for keeping for warm and standing out at PaizoCon and other conventions.
Dave "Action" GrossTokoz —
Dave Gross is back in his third (out of five) Pathfinder Tales novels with him on a byline. This one leaves nothing wanting other than more work from him in the future. Master of Devils has plenty of action and action is what Dave Gross does best.
The current book brings Chelaxian Count Varian Jeggare and his devil-spawn body-guard Radovan on a journey to Tian Xia in order to recover the husk of a wishing pearl that is left every twelve years by the Celestial Dragon. The journey is sponsored by the Pathfinder Society, but mostly seems to be an excuse to get their Venture-Captain/Count away from Absolam for a while.
The pair barely arrives at their destination and are immediately separated from each other by bandits. Varian ends up as a disciple at the Dragon Temple, where he begins a series of training that he never wanted. The situation places him in a most distressing subservient position as “First Brother of the Kitchen.” While he originally tries to get out of his un-agreeable discipleship, he eventually realizes that more can be done from his current position that he originally supposed.
Radovan also ends up serving an unwanted master. Burning Cloud Devil traps him in his diabolic form and uses the deadly “quivering palm” technique to force him to train in the ways of the martial artist in preparation for destroying the Celestial Dragon.
I’ve already mentioned that Dave Gross is a master of action scenes and that this book has lots of them. While I’m not an expert at all on martial arts or oriental culture, the flavor of the story is consistent with what I do know. I particularly liked the nine-tailed fox and the hopper. For small minor character that had maybe a page of lines total (none for the hopper) they were brilliantly three dimensional. Using Jeggare’s dog Arnisant as a periodic narrator was also a welcome surprise and pleasure.
There is nothing in this book not to like.
That said, I do try and leave little tidbits of the technical in my reviews and this book barely gave me anything to go on. There are three first person narrative points of view used in the novel. In the beginning, it is very clear stylistically who is speaking, but as the story progresses it becomes less clear. While I’m sure that part of this is because of how the different characters are progressing, not all of the change could be easily accounted by that.
It was easy to envision a dog that could see color, but some of the intellectual leaps made by Arnisant seemed a little more than just character progression. While I’m sure that some of Radovan’s “New York” gangster style of presentation would lose its edge in a foreign country, I’m not convinced that he’d lose that much of it. Jeggare’s change seemed the most fluid and predictable as he went from haughty and arrogant, to someone less abrupt.
My second nit picky (and yes, I’m very much admitting that neither of these are problems that should discourage people from reading the book) problem I blame more on the editor than the writer. It is difficult for a writer to gauge exactly how a novel is paced when forced to read it again and again from the start to where he left off. Often it is left to the editor, as the first to read the novel from beginning to end just once to see the places where time is taken and the story is not advanced. Not only does this save the publisher money, but it also subtly increases the value of the product.
While not as bad as what was seen in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, this book could have benefited from a little bit of editing. Not much. Just a little. Less than 2 chapter worth, I’m sure.
To summarize: 4 out of 5 stars. Very good stuff. I’d expect that most people that enjoy fantasy in one form or another will find this an enjoyable book.
Spoiler:I leave the review as it stands though so that people will know I'm not on such a high horse that I don't think I can possibly be wrong.
After thinking back over the ending with Arnisant, I really should have realized the parallel with Flowers for Algernon. The change in voice is warranted, it adds a lot to the novel.
I can write a whole review in bold in an attempt to emphasize a point, but the truth is that the longer I hold the reader in that situation, the less emphasis my text has until at last, at a slightly different point for each person, the reader is no longer even seeing the bold typeface, she is only seeing it as she would anything else written without the emphasis.
And although it doesn't apply to this book, the same is true of the use of profanity, graphic sexual content and violence. The point of over-used emphasis is well demonstrated in the wrong direction in Robin D. Law’s book, The Worldwound Gambit, the fourth of Paizo’s Pathfinder Tales line of books. All 415 pages are written in present tense, instead of the usual past tense common among story tellers and generally agreed to be the way that most human beings think even when witnessing current events.
The use of this gimmick is so overwhelming that it effectively douses the fire that is the book’s greatest strength—its epic story about the nature of good and evil, law and chaos. Coupled with the fact that it apparently made it very difficult for both the author and the editor to keep consistent point of view throughout the scenes, it goes quickly from being what it should have been—a book that I could regrettably only give five stars—to a book that I’d feel guilty for giving more than three stars.
The Worldwound Gambit is the story of a bold and eloquent con man by the name of Gad, who likes to do business near the Worldwound because a healthy amount of fear makes it easier for him to con people. But when a new power from the Abyss, a demon named Yath, begins to move his troops past the guarding stones that usually protect the border, Gad quickly realizes that his way of life is being upset. If he wants to stay in business and keep his current contacts and lifestyle intact, he’s going to need to do something about Yath.
More a lover than a fighter, he quickly gathers his old adventuring companions and sets out to face the demon in the center of the Worldwound and Yath’s power. While getting in to the demon’s tower isn’t easy, getting himself and all his friends out is more than likely impossible.
I loved this book. I recommend it to anyone that can get past the present tense and enjoy the story that is hidden within the constant bombardment of unintentional emphasis. If you enjoyed the movie
Spoiler:than you’ll enjoy the exploits of a group of thieves trying to save the people they love to rob.
Robin Law demonstrates that he knows what plot and character development are and how they are used. While there’s little change in the characters from beginning to end: that’s the point. His group of adventurers is not trying to change things so much as trying to keep things the same. Rather than change, each must confront a task that they particularly abhor and in the process of doing that, fight to keep their morals (such as they are among thieves) the same. I have to admit, I was particularly impressed with how moderate the sex and violence were in a book that is mostly about consorting with demons. The places where those things do take place are just often enough to give emphasis without over-doing and dulling the edge of what the author was trying to accomplish.
The Worldwound Gambit does nothing to shake my faith in the Pathfinder Tales line, Robin Laws, or James Sutter. It does however, make a definite mark as to how low I’ll want to see that limbo pole in the future.
First Mis-stepTokoz —
A Big Mistep
My apologies to Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham.
I had high hopes for Winter Witch after reading Dave Gross’s Prince of Wolves. Those hopes didn’t happen. The difficulty one often finds in reading and writing fantasy novels is that the more exposure you and your audience have to the fantastic, the less fantastic it seems. There’re certain elements that get over-used in particular and it’s impossible to write a whole flowing story without hitting on some clichés. It’s important though, to not chain too many together. Seventy-five percent (roughly) of this book, follows a path too well trodden, only to break it when it’s confusing and/or irritating to the reader.
I try to always mention a novel’s strengths when I write a review, so I will do that now. Dave Gross and Elaine Cunningham are both good writers and storytellers. The book does not suffer from inappropriate ambiguity, overly graphic or offensive material that has nothing to do with the story, or poor wording of important points.
While the story has a plot, well developed characters, and a central theme, it lacks elements that the reader can easily care about. The story follows the adventure of Ellasif, starting on a dark and stormy night when her barbarian village is under attack, and her sister (a chosen one) is born. We meet Ellasif at the age of ten, but her behavior and attitudes don’t change at all between that age and fifteen years later when the story picks back up again. At that time, her sister has been kidnapped by the witches of the north.
Next we go to Schmendrick… I mean Declan—a reluctant wizard/cartographer who is trying to save a woman he might love (her name is Silvana and no, I’m not kidding. It really is.) She and Declan’s boss (an astronomer) have also been kidnapped by the witches. Oh, and he has a dragon familiar, but doesn’t want to admit the dragon is his familiar. The familiar would be the most likable of the characters if he had more than ten lines in the whole novel. Declan has an odd magic ability intertwined with his artistic mapmaking skills.
Ellasif and Declan eventually decide to go north together after some coercion on Ellasif’s part. That’s the first half of the book, and honestly, doesn’t leave out much important. The trip to Whitethrone to confront the witches is adventurous and fast paced. It reads like most of Prince of Wolves. Unfortunately, that’s only the next quarter of the book. It’s almost possible to like Ellasif by that point. Declan manages to become heroic enough that you have high hopes for him.
In most novels, when the hero reaches his destination, the resolution of the main conflict occurs. For Winter Witch, this means two things. First it means a two paragraph soliloquy by Declan that magically (but not fantastically) resolves the issue with rescuing Ellasif’s sister. Secondly, it means that Declan doesn’t want to rescue Silvana anymore. There’s the standard relationship issue between Declan and Ellasif, but that too receives a quick resolution in the form of two words: “it’s complicated.”
If you’ve read this far and haven’t noticed any sarcastic comments on my part, there’s a good chance you’ll find the book new and interesting. Even if you do understand the sarcasm, you might still enjoy the book as just a light read. With the plethora of fantasy fiction out there, chances are, you can find something better with more likeable characters by the same authors. I didn’t think it was worth the time to check it out of the library, let alone the money to buy it.
Thoughtful ChewingTokoz —
Some authors set out to entertain. Some set out to make a social or political statement. Some have their own agenda. Few authors anymore seem at all interested in just getting you to think about things.
In Matthew Hughes’ Template, Conn Labro, an indentured servant and professional duelist, lives a life that he mostly seems to enjoy. But events that started off his home planet of Thrais have set in motion consequences that take him out into the galaxy for the first time. During his journey he has ample time to not only contemplate those events, but also confront his past, his values, and even the way that he views the world around him.
Between the action there’s plenty of time to think, both for the character and the reader. Hughes serves up more than a few heaping helpings of deep philosophy that the reader either has to numbly wade through, or carefully chew on in order to move the story forward. It gave me lots to think about and I enjoyed that, but this type of reading is not for everyone.
Some of the action he uses along the way to keep things flowing falls flat on its face. In one section, we’re given a complex description of a new type of water sport and then forced to sit through a play by play that is hard to understand without going back and referencing prior material--not a favorite past-time for most readers. Some reader might enjoy it.
The ending comes very close to a dues ex machina—close enough that most readers are going to think it is one. There’s a veiled reference earlier in the book that sort of kind of casually refers to how the hero succeeds, but from talking to other readers, I’m one of the few that caught it before it comes up in the plot.
I enjoyed the book. I know there’s plenty of people out there that will also enjoy it. However, if you’re looking for a good space action/adventure, you’re better off looking elsewhere.
Foiled AgainTokoz —
I’ve noticed a tendency among book reviewers (and movie reviewers and game reviewers…) to make sweeping judgments on their subjects. There’s little taking into account differing tastes between individuals. If the reviewer didn’t like the book, then by Gum, no one should like that book.
That said, I’ll start by saying that I found this book very unsettling. It hit on many sensitive spots: what some today might call ‘puritan values’ spots. I’m a religiously and family minded person and I honestly was not comfortable with a lot of subject matter in this book. A few times, I was tempted to do with it what I’ve only done on three other occasions before and put it down for good.
In the end, I’m glad that I didn’t.
In The Walrus and the Warwolf: Book three in A Chronicle of an Age of Darkness, Hugh Cook manages to use a superb literary foil to hold a mirror to our society and say what all it’s doing wrong. He does this by showing you a person, Drake Douay, who holds in high regard many twisted and corrupt values. In his society incest is not only ok, it’s considered a means of moving ahead in the world. Drinking and gambling are forms of religious worship. Destruction of property is worse than destruction of life.
The book follows Drake through a series of seemingly unrelated adventures, but like a twisted sort of medieval morality play, each adventure carries with it a subtle message: one that I can’t help but notice most readers seem to miss because of how fun these adventures are. I know China Meiville didn’t get it. He as much says so in his introduction. Just like it so often is in real life, each adventure has a consequence that is easy to overlook. Over time these add up, and while Drake never seems aware of the changes, he does change. Events do impact him. In the end we are given the moral of our reverse morality play.
In the end, I felt my ‘puritan values’ made more sense, without pointing a finger of judgment on anyone that might not share them. There are a lot of books worse than this one on recommended lists for English literature classes. Cook deals with questions about virtue, loyalty, honesty, fidelity, family, government, leadership, and love. We see Drake as he goes through an epic amount of the human experience in a short time. No play of Shakespeare covers as much in a single shot (no, I’m not saying it’s better than Shakespeare.) For literary value there’s alliteration, foil, satire, irony, and just darn good writing. (Yes, DGW is a real literary term, just like I’m a real book reviewer.)
So, um, Tokoz? Why the four stars?
This book isn’t for everyone. If my second paragraph actually makes you hesitate rather than ask, “But does it have pr0n?” then it might not be for you. People with a highly developed ‘moral compass’ might find the book disorienting and even nauseating. Another type of person that might want to avoid this book is someone that reads for escapism. If you don’t stop and think about it being a mirror to today, it might not bother you, but then again, you might not be ready to look at the reflection that Hugh Cook has ‘cooked’ up.
Enjoy it first and learn something second. Learn something first and enjoy it second. Enjoy it and don’t bother learning anything at all. The rest of the population will still find something they can sink their teeth into.
And skip the introduction. I honestly haven’t read much by Mr. Mieville, but the three f-bombs, the numerous spoilers and his erroneous conclusions about Bildungsroman (Bing is your friend here) in regards to this book, leave me wondering if he’d read it recently and if he had, if he’d read all of it recently. (His definition is fine. He’s just misses the fact that it does happen in Drake’s case.)
Best Foot ForwardTokoz —
Prince of Wolves, by Dave Gross, makes for an auspicious and excellent start to the Pathfinder Tales series. With this book, there’s no doubt that the people at Paizo have put their best foot forward.
The story follows the exploits of half-elven Pathfinder Varian Jaggare and his teifling bodyguard, Radovan, as they leave the comfort of their diabolic homeland behind and explore the wilds of Ustalav looking for a missing friend and fellow pathfinder. There they are forced to make sudden and drastic sacrifices to pursue their goal as they battle the gothic horrors of that land.
The book has everything going for it. Dave Gross paints magnificent scenery, intense drama, and thrilling fight scenes: each, it seems, with a different brush, but with a consistency of palette that leaves the reader knowing that it is a book that will most likely be just as enjoyable re-reading as it was reading it the first time.
The action not only leaves you wondering what will happen next, but worrying for the characters as well. I especially related to Radovan’s almost New York Italian attitude towards everything. I had to stop a few times and mentally slap myself for trying to force my own anachronisms on it.
Dave Gross doesn’t stop at just putting together a great action/adventure by questing novel. Unlike a lot of novels in the genre, the characters are deep and learn and change from their experiences. The writing shows someone that has lived away from the gaming table at times and understood the deeper and sometimes darker questions about what it means to be human.
While it has a depth that not many novels in game worlds possess, it doesn’t take that too far to the extreme. It will never be along the lines of the works that define the genre as a whole, but it does create a high mark for future novels to shoot for. And after all, most people that read these books will be wanting more to be entertained than educated. Prince of Wolves does both, although most will not notice the latter happening.