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Tag Archive: Out of the Abyss



By Art Schmidt

Once upon a time, there was a book called The Cave of Time, which was the first Choose Your Own Adventure book written by Edward Packer in 1979.  In this book, the idea of a fictional story and a fast-paced action adventure game were married into an experience which placed the actions of the story, and therefore the outcome, into the reader’s hands.  Every couple of pages would present the reader with a situation and then a choice: if you turn right, go to Page 29, if you turn left, go to Page 32.  Once you turned to that page, the story continued based upon your choice.  The Cave of Time was the first of its kind, and quickly led to nearly two hundred books of its type being published by Bantam Books for almost twenty years.  Subsequently additional books (and reprints) have been issued and continue to come out every few years, including The Magic of the Unicorn published just last year.

The folks who created the original Dungeons and Dragons product back in the 1970s, TSR Hobbies, Inc., quickly saw the potential of this creative type of book, and published their own choose-your-own-adventure books under the heading Endless Quest books starting in 1982.  Dungeon of Dread was a much longer and detailed novel than the original Choose Your Own Adventure books, twice as many pages and a more detailed story and background for the protagonist whose persona the reader undertook.  The books were popular, and TSR published three dozen over a five-year period.  The Endless Quest books were republished years later, and some more titles added, but with the surge of video games and other cheap, immersive entertainment, the books lost their charm for the fantasy gaming public and went out of print.  Other books were added in the 1990s but were largely out of print until this year.

   

Wizards of the Coast (who purchased the Dungeons and Dragons gaming brand in the 1990s) has revived the Endless Quest line of books and has licensed Candlewick Press to publish four new books based in the world of the Forgotten Realms, available today.  All four are written by Matt Forbeck, an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer, whose credits include the Rogue One junior novel, the Magic: The Gathering comics, and Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger.  Unlike the previous books of the 1980s and 1990s, these books are each based on one of the four core character classes from the Dungeons and Dragons game: cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard.  Written in the second person, the novels focus on characters who are nameless but of specific race and gender.

In Escape the Underdark the reader plays a human fighter, and the story follows the Out of the Abyss hardcover adventure from the Rage of Demons storyline from the Dungeons and Dragons season three. The main character begins the story unarmed and enslaved by the evil drow elves of the dreaded underdark, the vast underground world which exists just below the surface of the Forgotten Realms world.  As the publisher describes the novel: “You awaken in an underground cell, stripped of your armor and your sword.  Your fellow prisoners inform you that you’re trapped in the Underdark, soon to be taken to the great drow city of Menzoberranzan and sold off as a slave.  But word is that demons are stirring in the underworld’s depth…”
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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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