Tales of the Drow

Dungeons and Dragons week continues!

Following my look at the Legend of Drizzt boardgame on Tuesday, it’s only fair that I look at the books that inspired it all. As I mentioned in that blog, I came to Drizzt in early 2013, and was a bit hesitant at first, due to my prior commitments to the Star Wars universe. I suppose I felt like I didn’t have the room for something as big as this in my head. A similar argument was made in the early days for Warhammer, but that didn’t last, either. My friend and gaming buddy Tony has been a D&D fan for as long as I can remember, and had frequently tried to get me into the fantasy realm, though I’d always resisted. However, after playing and enjoying the offerings of the Adventure System boardgames, I thought I’d see what the fuss was all about, and bought the box set of the first three books in the Legend of Drizzt line. A line that, I hadn’t realised at the time, stretches to thirteen novels, with an anthology of short stories!

The Legend of Drizzt

So I embarked on Homeland, snowed up at home, and found myself utterly enraptured. From that first chapter, describing the drow raid against the backdrop of Drizzt Do’Urden’s birth, I was hooked. The intricacies of drow society sucked me in even further, and within a matter of days I’d finished it. Homeland is one of those books that took me along for a truly incredible ride, one that I needed to have a break after, to catch my breath and digest it all. While I find the trope of a misunderstood hero not fitting in with his society really quite hackneyed, the execution here is just fabulous.

I’d only previously encountered RA Salvatore through his Star Wars novels – Vector Prime, and the novel for Attack of the Clones. Both of these had been a bit wordy, and a bit heavy-going, so this only added to my suspicions about the series. However, Homeland threw all that out of the window, and proved to be an immensely enjoyable experience. Seriously, I cannot tell you just how much this book has pleased me – you just need to read it and see for yourself.

Real life intervened at this point, however, and I found myself moving house, so unable to move onto book two, Exile. When I finally made it to this book, I was ensconced in my new place, no snow on the ground, but had a similarly enjoyable experience. It’s set ten years after Homeland, so I suppose the break helped… We get to see even more of the Underdark, the land of eternal night. Dark Elf (drow) society is further expounded upon, and the characters of the previous book further developed. Even though Drizzt is now an outcast of his society, due to his conscience, we still see plenty of Matron Malice and her brood.

Drizzt’s mother is actually among the pantheon of amazing fantasy characters, for me. Literally every scene she was in had me engrossed utterly, so that when I’d put the book down to, say, get another coffee, I’d be surprised by the fact that I was in daylight! Yes, it really was that incredible. However, the whole story is just propelled along so well that it’s really easy to become so embroiled. Without the burden of exposition that Homeland has, Exile is consequently just an awesome adventure!

Book three, Sojourn, unfortunately started to let me down. At the end of Exile, we know Drizzt is now determined to live his life on the surface of the world, and of course this whole trilogy has been a prequel to the Icewind Dale trilogy, where we see Drizzt on the surface like he’s been there for years. Sojourn, therefore, has classic “bridge syndrome” of needing to get a character from A to B. The story is still good, of course, but it does feel a little ploddy at times.

All in all, however, the Dark Elf trilogy is bloody marvellous! You really need to go out there and get a copy of these books!

The Crystal Shard full cover

As I said, anyway, Drizzt first appeared in The Crystal Shard, where he was actually a supporting character to the tale of the young barbarian, Wulfgar. The popularity of the Dark Elf, however, led to the Legend being born, and it didn’t take long for the prequels and sequels to come, and the whole to be repackaged as the Legend of Drizzt. However, reading The Crystal Shard now, it feels a little uneven at times, as it’s being sold as a Drizzt novel, though there is a lot of focus placed on Wulfgar. At any rate, The Crystal Shard is a big difference from the previous stories, if you read them in this order as I did!

Inspired by traditional fantasy rather than the RPG, there is a lot of Tolkien in The Crystal Shard. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. I’m not actually a fan of Tolkien’s prose, as I find him unnecessarily long-winded, but his inspiration is beyond question, and his influence tremendous. Here, we get a lot of Tolkienesque scenes and sequences that feel like they’re trying too hard to be Tolkienesque. If they had been more Salvatore-esque, perhaps they would have succeeded much better? Well, anyway, this was Salvatore’s first published novel.

All of this aside, it’s pretty epic in its scope, and features a handful of story kernels scattered throughout that would spin off later novels in a completely natural way. Awesome stuff. While the story is notable for just how human the main characters are, it’s particularly noteworthy for the issues of race it addresses. Drizzt is a Dark Elf, a species also called drow, which I have mentioned before of course, but in D&D, Dark Elves are literally dark, with black skin and white hair. That the drow are reviled on the surface of the world for their evil deeds is a really nice metaphor for addressing racism in the modern world. Of course, this was before the Dark Elf trilogy, when we discovered that the drow really are evil and heartless. But I was particularly impressed with how Salvatore worked this into the book, and it goes to show how fantasy writing isn’t all about escapism. Written in the late 1980s, though, this perhaps also helped legitimize D&D, at a time when it was being demonized for encouraging Satanism.

Moving on!

While knowing that the ideas from The Crystal Shard would be picked up in later novels, I was nevertheless surprised to discover the next book in the trilogy, Streams of Silver, went a completely different route. Bruenor Battlehammer takes centre stage as we follow him on his quest to find his ancestral homeland of Mithral Hall. This book introduces the assassin Artemis Entreri, sent to pursue the halfling Regis to regain a valuable gemstone. Essentially a road trip story, it is actually really enjoyable, with a lot of twists along the way as we explore more of the world. By the end, however, all appears lost, as Bruenor appears to have died in his battle with the dragon Shimmergloom, and Regis has been captured by Entreri.

The Halfling’s Gem concludes the trilogy, though I have yet to actually finish this installment! Shameful, I know. A huge chunk of the beginning of this novel takes place as a boat trip, and I have to admit, I felt a bit journey-ed out by this point. I tend not to like road-trip stories where the focus is on that journey, I have to say. They tend to have a rambling quality that I find unfocused, but that’s just me. I abandoned book three roughly in the middle, over the summer of 2013, and I’m not entirely sure what I moved onto in its place! However, I have now embarked upon my attempt to finish it.

There are, after all, so many more Drizzt books out there…

The Legend of Drizzt

Buy it from amazon:
The Legend of Drizzt, set I (out of print, I believe, but linked because it’s the box set I mention)
Homeland
Exile
Sojourn
The Legend of Drizzt, set II (also out of print, it appears)
The Crystal Shard
Streams of SIlver
The Halfling’s Gem

25th Anniversary Edition, book one (the Dark Elf trilogy)
25th Anniversary Edition, book two (the Icewind Dale trilogy)

Adventures in the Underdark

It’s D&D week!

Over the weekend, I read this post from fellow blogger Man of Yesterday (who I highly recommend you follow!) on playing a D&D adventure, and have been inspired to make a feature week here on my blog! I’ve talked about my own roleplaying experiences but briefly, but suffice it to say, I love it. D&D has existed on my radar for years now, as my good friend and sparring partner Tony is a huge fan, but it was only recently that I really delved into that world.

I recently mentioned that I like to read at least one new book in January. Well, in 2013, that new book was RA Salvatore’s Homeland. I was immediately blown away by this book, which I started almost begrudgingly, if I’m honest. I’m going to talk about that in a later blog this week, but the reason for my hesitation was that I’m primarily a Star Wars geek, and wasn’t sure I had room in my head for another big franchise. However, I wanted to read it because of this:

The Legend of Drizzt

Part of the D&D Adventure System board game line, this box – and its two siblings – is just awesome! Essentially a dungeon-crawl in the manner of Descent (which I will get to, one day!), these games are among my absolute favourites. Based on the d20 D&D RPG line, the games feature a strong role-playing element, and include classic monsters from the line such as the Beholder. And the AI makes them playable solo! Fantastic.

You start out with a character card, one of the major players in the saga such as Bruenor Battlehammer, his adopted daughter Catti-Brie, the young barbarian Wulfgar, or maybe even Drizzt himself – and receive a number of power cards much like in the RPG. The character cards are double-sided, and certain events (such as rolling a natural 20, or the Battlefield Promotion Treasure card) allow you to level up, flipping the card for slightly increased stats!

Once you’ve got your character sorted, you place the corresponding miniature on the starting tile, and the adventure begins! The game comes with a whole host of miniatures, for all the monsters as well as the heroes.

The game comes with an Adventure Book, which sets out a number of scenarios you can play with the game. (As a side note, each of the three boxes are meant to be compatible, and in the early days, Wizards brought out a couple of web-scenarios that specifically integrated the first two box sets. Nothing has come out to integrate all three, though there are fan expansions in this vein available online).

Each adventure has a slightly different layout, depending on the objective. For illustrative purposes, I was playing scenario 2, the Search for Mirthril Hall. This one requires a specific ‘cavern tile’ to be shuffled into three ordinary tiles, then all four are placed at the bottom of a stack of eight other tiles, timing the adventure to last between 9 and 12 tile-reveals. There are some pretty awesome map tiles in this set, some used for specific scenarios – such as the Broken Door tile in the adventure I’m playing:

The Legend of Drizzt

Each tile has an arrow on it, as well as a cluster of mushrooms. On your hero’s turn, if you are at an “unexplored edge” of a tile, you draw a new one, placing it so that the arrow points to that edge. If the arrow is white, you’re (reasonably) fine and draw a Monster card, and place the corresponding miniature on the mushroom cluster. If the arrow is black, you first draw an Encounter card, which can denote all sorts of nastiness, from area-attacks on your tile, to specific traps being laid!

The Legend of Drizzt

In addition to lots of miniatures, there are lots of cards, and lots of tokens. Just how I like my boardgames, really!

The Legend of Drizzt

Monster Cards show that monster’s Armor Class (AC) and Hit Points (HP). When fighting a monster, the hero rolls a d20 and adds their attack value; if the result exceeds the AC, they do a number of damage that deducts HP from the monster until it is dead. If the monster is defeated, it goes into the Experience pile – Experience can be used to cancel Encounter Cards as well as to level up when you’ve rolled a natural 20. You also get to draw a Treasure Card when you defeat a monster, which can be anything from weapons to health boosts, to that Battlefield Promotion!

However, if you don’t defeat the monster in one round of combat, that monster will be coming for you! They have ‘Tactics’ printed on their cards, showing how they move and, in some cases, which weapon they use. They also have attack and damage values – you roll the d20 and add their attack value, comparing it to your own AC, etc. A very simple, yet tremendously effective AI!

The Legend of Drizzt

Sometimes, however, that shadow up ahead might just be a Stalagmite!

The Legend of Drizzt

Most adventures have some sort of set-up similar to that described above, and in Search for Mithril Hall, once the Broken Door tile is revealed, the Ancient Throne tile is placed alongside it. This is a double-tile, and involves the Crown token (if you’ve read the Icewind Dale trilogy, you’ll love this!). This also triggers the end-game, however, as the Artemis Entreri enemy figure is also placed on the Start Tile, and each turn, he’s coming for you!

The D&D Adventure System features some straightforward monsters, and some more complex. The latter type have quite lengthy stat cards akin to those of the heroes. However, Legend of Drizzt takes that one step further and provides Hero cards for two of the enemy figures, Artemis and also Jarlaxle. Fans of the Hunter’s Blades trilogy will be particularly enraptured! It’s a really nice twist being able to play these “grey” characters (who hilariously have grey miniatures in this game!).

The Legend of Drizzt

Oh yeah, there’s also a Guenhwyvar miniature you can use as an ally! Awesome!

The game is really quite straightforward to play, which allows you to focus on enjoying the adventure rather than getting bogged-down in rules. Its adventures draw mainly from the Icewind Dale trilogy, and there are quite a lot of moments where, if you’ve read those books, you’ll be enraptured as you play through the events in board game form!

Of course, this is Wizards of the Coast, so there are promos available. Well, promo, actually. A Vierna Do’Urden monster card was released, which I managed to snaffle online after the fact for a modest sum, and has shown up quite a few times, in some truly awesome epic storytelling moments – the first time I used her, she ended up Poisoning Drizzt, which actually killed him. Not quite a repeat of the scene in the books, but it was a hilarious move!

Dungeons and Dragons Adventure System Board Game

As mentioned before, The Legend of Drizzt is just one of the line of Adventure System board games, all three of which are fully compatible with each other. So you can play Drizzt and Wulfgar and face off against Ashardalon, for instance. Or use the Ranger or Fighter power cards from either game to equip Drizzt and Bruenor as you explore Castle Ravenloft. Personally, I like to keep all three games separate, but I’ve heard of people mixing everything together, and it seems to work well for them.

I’ll be featuring all of these games on Game Day blogs soon, anyway!

Legend of Drizzt came out in 2011, and the Adventure System has been really quiet until the end of last year, when it was announced that a fourth game would be released in the spring of 2015. We finally have a name for it, Temple of Elemental Evil! It seems to be some sort of ‘event’ in the D&D world happening this year, with the game tying in as a result. Well, whatever it is, I’m all for it!

For now, I’ll leave you with a last look at that fantastic Errtu miniature, the hulking fire demon from The Crystal Shard. Enjoy!

The Legend of Drizzt

Buy it from amazon:
The Legend of Drizzt