24 May 2010


Wow, long time without posting. Basically, taking over as DM used up most of my creative energy that had been going into this blog. However, my scenario should end this week, and Fibonacci's begin, and I have nearly all the details worked out. A few still need polishing. I'll probably post something on that once I get back into the habit of posting. This post, though, is about a book I just finished reading. It's called Dissolution, and is set in the drow city of Menzoberranzan. I wanted to refamiliarize myself with the drow mindset, as in Fibonacci's next campaign I'm playing a drow assassin. She is not a typical drow, in that she's good-aligned, but she's also not going to be a whiny, angsty "can't we all just get along" drow. She's part of a merchant family dealing in poisons. They travel around the Underdark, and act as a sort of underground railroad for drow misfits. They would like to make drow society more cohesive, and less chaotic (meaning they don't serve Lolth), but mostly do what they can for drow who don't fit into the extant society. Anyway, that has nothing to do with the book other than my motivation for reading it.

The book is not perfect. There were places where I wanted to slap the author for sloppy writing and general pretentiousness. Nonetheless, the book is quite enjoyable for its characters and plot. We have Pharaun, a wizard outcast from his family but now tolerated for his high position in the wizards' school. He's something of a fop. Imagine James Bond as a drow wizard with little concern for bystanders. Then there's Ryld. He's a commoner who's risen about as high as a commoner can in drow society: he trains the city's males as fighters. He could be guard-captain of a noble house, but, as he points out, this would put him under the thumb of a matron mother and her retinue. Then we have Quenthel and Gromph. Quenthel is the high priestess in Menzoberranzan and Gromph is the high wizard. They're also siblings, and Gromph is plotting to kill his sister. This is not particularly noteworthy, other than the rank, as drow take "sibling rivalry" to the extreme; Pharaun's sister is also plotting to kill him, for instance. A few others become prominent later in the book, but it looks like they won't be truly major players until the second book of the series.

The cornerstone of the plot is that the priestesses of Lolth in Menzoberranzan have lost contact with their goddess, and no one knows why. As soon as some of the drow malcontents realize this, they set about taking advantage of the situation. Pharaun and Ryld are called in to track the malcontents, knowing only that they've disappeared. Gromph decides it would be a good time to try and kill Quenthel, since her powers will be diminished. Without giving too much away, all this eventually leads to a slave uprising in the city itself. All the goblins, bugbears, orcs, kobolds, and other "lower races" decide it would be a good time to rise up against their oppressors. There's more to it, but that would be giving away too much.

Now, I'd read some Forgotten Realms books before, but this is the first I've read since actually playing D&D. Certain details about the combat made more sense. I would find myself thinking things like "Nope, rolled too low," or "Must have made a saving throw." This didn't fit everywhere, as there were weapons being broken and heads being chopped off and knees being shattered, which is more specificity than usually allowed by game mechanics, but I was amused by the places where I could see it as fitting perfectly within game mechanics. I was even more amused when the book ended with a group of five drow being sent on a quest to find out what was going on with Lolth. Five adventurers, eh? Two priestesses, one wizard, and two fighters (one of whom may be a rogue; he only made three appearances, so it's hard to say).

Anyway, it isn't necessary to play D&D to appreciate this book, but it certainly gives some insight into the structure. If you want a story about scheming backstabbers whose sense of loyalty lasts until they see an advantage in betrayal, this is an enjoyable book. I'm hoping the next ones in the series will be as well. Oddly, all the books in this series seem to be by different authors. This one was by Richard Lee Byers. When he isn't being overly pretentious, he has a decent writing style, and he is very good at writing memorable characters.

Oh yes. One other detail that I found rather interesting. Drow "friendships" are more matters of convenience and familiarity than anything else. There is a place in the book where one friend betrays another, but the more I think about it, the more I think that a set of good characters would have wound up doing the exact same thing. The biggest difference is that the good character would have said "sorry," first, or, possibly, there would have been some conferring and they would have mutually decided that doing things that way would give them the best chance of saving the city. However, since there was a betrayal involved with these characters, it will be interesting to see if it changes the overall dynamic of character interaction in the next book.

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