Thursday, February 21, 2013

Swords of Eveningstar

So I took a look at the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar adventure a while back and found it somewhat lacking. I've been digging in to the older parts of the Realms recently and I knew that was where one of Ed Greenwood's more famous and active groups started out. The adventure is roughly comparable to T1 but not as good when it comes to the dungeon part of things. Disappointed, I moved on but I eventually remembered that there was a trilogy about that same group and the first book had Eveningstar in the title. I picked it up thinking it might fill in some of what I was looking for. Well, not exactly.

The setting: It's Cormyr in the Forgotten Realms, presumably pre-Spellplague and pre-Time of Troubles as Azoun IV is the king. The odd thing is that the characters are from and begin in and around Espar, a town in western Cormyr, not Eveningstar.

The characters: We have remarkably attractive yet also remarkably noble ranger Florin Falconhand as our lead. We have some other members of the adventuring party whose names will be familiar to those who read a lot about the Realms' early days including Doust Sulwood, future lord of Shadowdale, Dove Silverhand (who I believe ends up some time later as Dove Falconhand) and some NPC's like the whiny princess who is a major character, the king of Cormyr who shows up several times, the royal mage of Cormyr who keeps showing up as well, and numerous others.

Doust knows Elminster! 
The story: 

Part 1 (Chapters 1-9): Our heroes live in Espar doing not a whole lot and chafing at the lack of adventure. Their goal is to get a royal charter so they can go adventuring legally but they seem to be unable to make this happen. Florin runs into an old friend and fakes a kidnapping to teach whiny princess a lesson and ends up saving the king's life from an ambush. Afterwards, Azoun grants him the charter and he and his friends are off, now known as the Knights of Eveningstar and charged with investigating the haunted halls!

This part is a little hard to swallow plot-wise. The faked kidnapping seems like a questionable thing for a "good" character to do considering there is real danger in the area. The ambush intervention is strictly a lucky coincidence and not attributable to any special ability on the part of the character. I also thought it was odd to name the adventuring group after a completely different town that they are not connected to in any way! It would be like naming your Dallas-based adventuring band the Knights of Shreveport - it's not terribly far away but if you're not from there and have never been there why would you do it? It's just clumsy and I have to wonder how much of that really came from the original adventures and how much was just added in for the book. Most of this first section focuses solely on Florin Falconhand so it seems unlikely to have come about in that early actual play.

Part 2 (Chapters 10-18): The newly-official adventuring band travels to Eveningstar, gets introduced and officially announced by the king and a bunch of important NPC's. We see a bit of the town here but not a ton of time is spent on it. Finally in Chapter 13 we finally have a party of adventurers entering the Haunted Halls of Eveningstar! It only took 180+ pages to get them there - now we're going to see some serious stuff! What do they encounter? A spider and some Zhentarim and some traps - and that's about it! For three whole chapters! Then they pull out, rest and talk, head back in, and get teleported to Arabel!

This part seems pretty thin on the dungeon action to me. They encounter pretty mundane stuff and a lot of empty rooms. If it was part of an actual play story on a blog or a forum post there is nothing about it that would stand out. It's fairly accurate as far as old school D&D goes - large party, some arguing over approach, and several characters live only because of healing potions - so it's not that it doesn't read like D&D. It's that it doesn't read as anything special when it comes to D&D.

Part 3 (Chapters 19-27): The group stays in Arabel getting into some trouble with the local lord and some Zhentarim agents and some traitor war wizards. There's a whole secondary plot about a Zhent agent running around in disguise that becomes a much bigger part of the story here, and some stuff about the Queen of Cormyr and some other nobles plotting against the king but most of it has nothing to do with the main characters. Eventually they teleport back to the Haunted Halls (not because they wanted to go there - once again it's largely by accident)  and they end up fighting a different shadowy Zhentarim agent who has had no real direct contact with them up til now. Eventually the bad guys seem to be dead, the good guys win, a few characters die, and things are set up for the next story

This part is just a mess - we have royal intrigue, we have Zhentarim intrigue, we have no less than three different Zhent agents running around causing trouble, plus traitorous nobles, plus a traitorous war wizard, multiple Cormyrian lords and ladies, multiple Cormyrian non-traitor war wizards, party members going bad, and just way too much going on to make a coherent, focused storyline. Sometimes less is more, and this would have been much better focusing on the adventuring band and  making all the Cormyrian intrigue a separate book entirely. Some of the intra-party stuff makes little to no sense and I can't tell how it would have gone down in actual play and I am open to the possibility that a lot of it did not, unless half the party were NPC's anyway.

Florin Falconhand - he has a mini!

Game Stuff:
 The main Zhent badguy uses some creature to disguise himself repeatedly throughout the story. A creature that in 30+ years of D&D, a considerable part of that spent in the Realms, I have never heard of before this novel. Oh, and this creature craps out something called a "mindworm" that lets the villain take control of anyone who ingests one, apparently with no saving throw as it works every single time. It bothers me that in a game full of magic spells and magic items that can change one's appearance and charm or control other people we have to make up an entirely new means of doing this in the form of a magical beastie. It just reeks of heavy-handedness and I seriously question whether any of that was going on in the background of that original campaign all those years ago.

 Cormyr in this novel is swarming with war wizards who are constantly scrying people and reading minds all in the name of protecting the kingdom, aided by purple dragons who apparently exist only to arrest or slay anyone who the wizards deem a threat. Cormyr comes across as a police state that seems about as pleasant a place to live as Thay! I've read a fair amount of stories set in  Cormyr and I've never seen it like this.

Wrapping Up:
 I went into this hoping for a look at some of the original adventures in the Realms, particularly the party that would later be the Knights of Myth Drannor that I've heard so much about over the years. I was also hoping to learn something new about Eveningstar and the Haunted Halls. I was very disappointed. The plot is a convoluted mess, the story jumps all over Cormyr to a far larger cast of characters than it needs to, and despite the name it does not spend all that much time on Eveningstar or the Halls. The main characters, the adventuring band, are just not that memorable. There's the earnest male ranger, the competent female thief, the buff female fighter, the annoyingly lecherous male cleric (if a player was this annoying in my game I'd have to talk to him about it), the dull cleric (Doust!), the dull wizard, and some spares they pick up partway through the story that don't stand out at all. If the intrigue stuff was pared away maybe more time spent on the characters would have made them more memorable. Considering I just spent over 400 pages reading about them, that's not good.

Florin in 16-bit glory!
I will probably read the next book in the series just to see where it goes, but I'm not all that excited about it. Maybe it will up the average.

No comments: