Monday, May 22, 2017

Elantris Appendix N Musings

When you read a beefy tome like Elantris, many elements may start to swirl around your brain and demand a place at your gaming table.

1. Take the most popular city in your setting and destroy it. Forgotten Realms? Waterdeep sent into the plane of Shadow. Eberron? Sharn collapses and is surrounded by a psionic energy barrier that flares with runes similar to the various house marks. Greyhawk? Well, of course, Greyhawk city!

You can either have it happen right at the start of the campaign or as something that has happened in the recent past. No one knows how or why it happened but it gives the players the chance to explore the ruins of a freshly destroyed city. They can hunt for survivors. They can hunt for lost lore. They can try and return the city to its former glory. The options are almost limitless when you're dealing with a subject as big as a lost city in a magical setting.

Players may also get caught up in the changes that are wrought by a major city falling. For example, if Waterdeep itself falls, what about the various farms outside of Waterdeep? What about the various towns outside the city? Will they rise and take over the maintenance of the roads leading north? Will they be destroyed by raids from nearby towns looking for plunder?

What about the political situation? Waterdeep, as a large city, an old city, as a trading city, has many alliances and enemies. Will those in the South use this as an excuse to invade their northern neighbors and become the new "Gateway to the North"? Will those in the north use this as an excuse to start an extermination of evil in order to safeguard their own lands and ensure that the same thing that happened to Waterdeep does not happen to them?

2. NPC Motivations: Some characters aren't necessarily evil but they have a goal. That goal can range in time and tune with the evolution of the campaign. In Elantris, Roial and Ahan are merchants that compete with one another. Roial always getting the better of Ahan. Under the promise that Roial would be imprisioned, Ahan betrays Roail and their friends. Thing spin rapidly out of that as the one Ahan betrayed the group to decides not to imprison Roail and the others, but to kill them. An event completely against the wishes of Ahan but outside his control once the ball started rolling. Things move as motivation directs them for a character, but when that motivation encounters other character's motivation, it can spin in a completely different fashion.

Are there secrets that friends of the characters know? Are there things that might make others jealous? Have the players learned something that is of vital consequence to others in the region but they themselves don't see it that way?

And motivation doesn't have to be used against the players. One of the main characters of Elantris, Hrathen, is the high priest of Fjordell and is in Arelon to convert the people. This is his goal. To convert the people.

When he learns that his church never had that as an intention, he turns against them. This is the classic case of organized religion versus a man's own interpretation of that religion and the organization fell short.

3. Secrets. During the course of the novel, prince Raoden uses two different aliases in order to move forward with his own plans. During the course of the novel, we learn that Raoden's father was a member of a cult that engaged in ritual sacrifice. As the novel unfolds, we learn of a hidden cult of killers within the religion that Krathen seeks to bring to the people of Arelon. At the end of the novel, there are still mysteries left to ponder. Keep some things hidden from the characters. Keep enough elements of the campaign that the characters may choose to follow a few of them without ever knowing what the others lead to.

Now mind you in a multi-year campaign where the players are playing the same characters and growing in tune with the campaign itself, that's a little harder to do but in many campaigns, especially shorter-lived ones, it gives the players something to look forward to the next time they come back to the campaign.

4. Minor Characters: In a dungeon crawl that's packed with monsters, Non-Player Characters aren't necessarily that important. Oh sure there might be a 'Meepo' in the waiting or something of that nature, but mainly, it's about the crawl.

In a city-based campaign, in a campaign that interacts with civilization, it's in part about the people. A Game of Thrones, one of the most popular of novel series, has dozens of characters. While Elantris in one book does not boast quite so many, it does have numerous individuals. For example, Sarene is married to Raoden. Raoden and Sarene both have fathers. Sarene also has an uncle. That uncle has children. Some of those children are married. Many of these characters have their own little niches about them.

The depth and details of the campaign can shine much greater when the players have an actual attachment to the campaign. Some of these can serve as mentors, as friends, as allies, as rivals, as enemies. The amount of swordplay or violence directly in a mirror to what the player's do.

5. Social Combat: One of the most interesting aspects of Elantris to me, from a gaming point, is the lack of fighting.

Hrathen vs Sarene: As a high priest, Hrathen is out and about preaching. He is intent on bringing the people into the fold. Sarene has seen the works of the church in other countries, sometimes resulting in bloody revolutions and is determined to stop it. So when Hrathen is out preaching, Sarene is there asking questions that undermine the church.

Sarene vs King Iadon: The King has no use for women in the court. He feels them useless and out of place among the political games that go on. Sarene is having none of that and at first, plays off as if she were too dumb to understand the problems that Iadon has with her being in the court. She does this once by pretending to paint and claiming it's part of her own courtly duties.

Raoden vs Sarene: During part of the novel, Raoden is in exile in Elantris and Sarene is bringing food to the people of the city. Raoden is in many ways the default ruler of the city but doesnt' control all of it and seeks to keep things are while at the same time trying to get more supplies to improve the lot of the people of Elantris. This leads to a list of goods needed by Raoden while Sarene not trusting him, provides corrupted versions of them. For example, instead of blocks of iron, bent nails or near transparent sheets of metal.

The use of social combat and the gaining and losing of status is often underlooked in roleplaying games. Most of the rules in games like Dungeons and Dragons are for spells and combat but social combat can be a little more involved and allows the players to occassionally lose without dying on the spot.

Are there any other parts of Elantris that you'd bring to your campaign or thought would make for some interesting bits in a game?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Written by Brandon Sanderson
Published by Tor Fantasy
638 pages (paperback version)

Elantris is the first book written by Brandon Sanderson. In paperback at least, it's a weighty tome clocking in at over six hundred pages. Took me a little while to digest it.

The concept is a solid one. Elantris, the 'city of the gods', has fallen. Those who once did magic that could heal wounds and create light and energy for their people lost their abilities overnight and they were quickly slain.

This did not stop the 'gifting' of Elantris, where people outside the city would once become like those of Elantris, powerful and silvery skinned, but now, their bodies 'die' and they are cast into Elantris which is more akin to the city of Dis, a city of the damned.

The back cover brings us three main characters:

Raoden: He's the prince of the city outside Elantris proper. He works against his father's ways. In ma ways, Raoden is far too modern for the times he finds himself living in. One thing I appreciate about Raoden, is that he's an optimist. He's always searching for answers. He's always looking for the biggest reasons why. He's always trying to minimize violence and harm to others.

It's a refreshing chance of corse. In many tales, the hero is so grim, so gritty, that at times, I would love to see him killed off just so that someone more interesting can replace him. Being a bitter washed up old hero is played out.

Hrathen is a high priest of the country of Fjordell. He's been sent to Raoden's country of Arelon to convert the people. That didn't work out too well for the last country Hrathen converted. Turns out that when you turn the common folks against their rulers, a massacre when thousands, if not tens of thousands of people can happen.

I was pleasantly surprised by Hrathen several times. While he plays the 'villain' of the piece to a point, he's much more complex than merely a ranting religious figure that all the woes of humanity can be tied onto.

He's clever. He appreciates those who share this trait. He's not a devout fanatic and is even brought to the point where he has to consciously question his faith and how that faith interacts with the organized religion. In these things, Sanderson doesn't' paint any one character with too broad a brush save perhaps the actual zealots, but I found Hrathen very entertaining and interesting in his own right.

Sarene is another character born out of time. A tall woman whose height intimidates some, her willingness to wade deep into political matters that in Arelon at least, were only considered things for men to discuss.

She brings swordplay to the ladies of the court as a hobby to the women. She runs an alliance against the actual king of Arelon. She is a princess of Teod and now of Arelon and she is not to be ignored.

As a done in one novel, Sanderson brings the main body of the story to a close, but he leaves a lot of events open-ended. Looking at the book, I see there is now The Emperor's Soul, book 2 in the Elantris series.

When I get my reading queue a little more organized, it's one I'm going to have to check out. I enjoyed Mistborn. I found the ending of that series to be a neat switch on the whole 'one of prophecy bit' and I find that Elantris also does a good job of moving some of the troupes around.

Brandon's enjoyment of making magic systems with their own rules and rituals is clear in the series. His ability to work events and tie in different elements is solid. Stories from the start of the book come to have a greater impact towards the end. He's truly a believer of the whole gun from the first chapter getting used in later chapters.

If you're a fan of fantasy novels, especially high fantasy novels, Elantris is a solid read.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Abbot's Gibbet by Michael Jecks

The Abbot's Gibbet
Written by Michael Jecks
A Medieval West Country Mystery
A Knight's Templar Mystery

Michael Jecks continues the tale of former knight templar Sir Baldwin Furnshill and his ally and friend Simon Puttock in the fifth novel in the series.

The mystery around this time starts off with a headless corpse. In an era where modern forensics are unknown, to have a corpse with no head leads to difficulties beyond the standard whodunit mysteries.

Setting the murder during the fair of the 'dock' city of Tavistock, makes things more difficult. Michael Jecks initially hits us with so many characters, that the names and descriptions come fast and furious. It takes a while before we even get to Sir Baldwin and Simon!

As with other books in the series, Michael's enjoyment of the era comes through. This isn't blind devotion or thinking it a superior in terms of moral authority, but a knowledge of how things work. Take the title of the book itself, The Abbot's Gibbet. Sir Baldwin's order, the Templars, did not fare well under the agents of Gods mercies. When Sir Baldwin looks at that, the ultimate sign of authority over life and death, he is not a man pleased with his place in the world.

It does serve to steel his spine and ensure that he always works towards providing the justice he feels his brothers in the templars were denied.

Michael continues to expand the setting. This novel introduces us to Lady Jeanne, a widower who benefits from the generosity of the Abbot. Sir Baldwin, who is a single man of no small years, is smitten with her and her presence is hinted at being continued strongly through their courtship in the novel.

There are enough characters and possible motivations and possible rationales and red herrings, that if you catch the villain before the end piece, I salute you. Mind you, this is somewhat deliberately obstruction in some instances as bread crumbs leading in very specific directions are laid before pulled back. Too much of that can ruin a story but as more information comes to light, nothing from before is invalidated.

For me, it's enjoyable to read these books because it's fun to see where the characters are going. Who the characters are interacting with. How the setting itself as it involves the characters, is getting larger and more involved.

If you're interested in history or more information on Michael Jecks, check out his youtube channel.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Kickstarter Current Thoughts: 05-07-2017

Way back in the day, I backed many a Kickstarter projects.

Over the last say, two years, I've cut way back. Way back.

This is due to several factors.

Kickstarter is terrible at allowing a user to know what a vendor is about. There should be some type of dashboard that each vendor has where I can see customer satisfaction, how often they hit their marks, how late their product is, and other information. Things like posts before funding, posts after funding. It's always telling if you see that between the time a late project fulfilled and when it started the posts count goes way down.

Instead, we get what? Here's how many projects this company did. Wow. Thanks. That's not really useful information in telling me anything at a glance as I now have to delve into each project and see how they went.

It's 2017. Big data is a thing. This isn't some weird request to provide information that isn't instantly available with existing technology. Kickstarter, get your head into the game of providing better customer service!

Okay, so that's one.

Two, I've had trials and tribulations. Let's see, a few years ago, my formerly awesome mechanic just completely missed like $3,500 worth of repairs that my old Saturn needed. So it was new car time. New cars are expensive.

My mom's been hospitalized a few times. Life doesn't get easier when you have a chronic condition like diabetes.

I was hospitalized! Parking in an alley is awesome in most seasons but in the winter it's challenging. So challenging that I got caught on a huge snow mound and had to get underneath my car with a shovel to get out of it. The reward? A few slipped disks that prevented me from doing anything outside of laying down without being in excruciating pain. I was very lucky in that three months of physical therapy and a few shots to the spine were able to restore most of my mobility and make the pain manageable.

I was laid off! After 19 years at my last gig, they had decided, "You know, it makes more sense for us to have like, what, five job fairs and fire the people already working here" Corporate America for the win yeah?

That one worked out a bit better for me as I have a job making significantly more money and every time I talk to peeps from the old place they have some new issue to harp on.

Three, Kickstarter projects are often on sale. Anyone heard of Zombicide: Black Plague?

I didn't get the exclusives. I also didn't wait for it to be published. I also got it for 50% off. This doesn't count other board games that get deep discounts like The Others, another one I got for almost or 50% off. I ordered it and Amazon sent it to me the same day.

Anyone remember The Grand Temple of Jing? It was about this time I was starting to get leery of these games. I don't know if gamers are just terrible project managers or if they are a cursed lot of mankind because that project was massively late. two years or something late. I picked up my copy from The Miniature Market on some crazy blowout. Think I paid like $20 or $25 for it.  A Beautiful book by the way.

How about Razor Coast? Picked up the whole lot for more than 50% off.

So yeah, outside of some great exclusives or 'freebies' like giving you the PDF with the physical copy, I'm not seeing a lot of benefit for backing these Kickstarters when so many of them are just poorly managed and late.

Four, lack of accountability. Kickstarter continues to hide behind "it's not a preorder, it's funding a process" or some nonsense that if you took it to a bank and asked for a loan they'd laugh you out. As I alluded to above, way too many of the kick starters I've picked up have been the results of late or bad management. Heck, I didn't' even get started on Sedition Wars that decided for the good of the game to screw the initial backers in some obscure ways that didn't, by the way, make the good of the game viable.

On failures, I've backed? I was a backer of the Tome of Horrors, both of 'em. Should have known the warning signs on that one. Sigh. That doesn't count Drake.

That doesn't count some that are technically still going like Imbrian Art's where they're literally using new Kickstarter, sending out the goods to those people on the new Kickstarter first, and eventually will get to the original guys who sent them money. It's not that Jody isn't an awesome sculptor. It isn't that he hasn't had his own 'curses' but damn that's a shitty thing to do to people who originally believed in you.

 Another one that's long overdue is Assimilation Alien Host. It took in over $50 thousand and it's been bleeding out at a slow fraction. Thankfully the creator decided to actual start communicating with the backers again and on a regular basis and most people are happy with the communication skills and the slow but steady progress forward.

Five, there's awesome stuff out there right now! That isn't being Kickstarted! Don't get me wrong, I get that Kickstarter for many companies, like Goodman Games, is probably more of a marketing and preorder thing to engage with their potential customers than a vital necessity, but in the meantime, there are publications like Pathfinder Bestiary 6 out there.

You want it? You want it now? You simply go buy it. Done.

Sixth, I'm crazy. I have a problem just kind of backing a thing. Like there were some awesome awesome dwarf miniatures out recently, The Iron Crows!. My nature would've put me at a pretty high pledge level on that one.

Seventh, I'm not playing or painting! My new job is cool in that it's only four days a week, but it's four ten hour days, with an unpaid hour for lunch, and it's about an hour both ways so it's a thirteen hour day. Not complaining but it is a schedule that makes me pretty unavailable for anything during the week because I have to be up so early. And then on the weekend the dreaded adulting strikes! So even though I've bought the Other and Black Plague, I haven't done much more than look at them.

Why on earth would I back anything else?

Mind you there are a few I've backed just because they looked fun and were from companies that I trusted. In reality, I did not need to back Godoman Games and their new boxed set of the Duo but I like the Twain so even though I never used the Runequest stuff, I wanted to throw some support at them.

But overall? Yeah, my spending on Kickstarter, unless it gets serious about not only accountability, but customer friendliness in data sharing, is going to continue going down.

How about everyone else? How are you doing with Kickstarter? More? Less? The same? Am I way off my gourd here?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Godborn by Paul S. Kemp

The Godborn
Written by Paul S. Kemp
The Sundering Book II
Dungeons & Dragons
Forgotten Realms

This book has more categories than it knows what to do with. It's Forgotten Realms, it's Dungeons and Dragons, it's the Sundering and it's the continuation of Paul S. Kemp's work of sun and shadow.

Hate to say it, but the initial chapters didn't win me over. It's not that Paul isn't a solid writer, but rather, that he's shackled by the setting. In this case, the 'Sundering'. See, it wasn't enough that the Forgotten Realms in Paul's last book was getting ready to undergo changes, and that oh, it's been about 100 years since the last book, well, 70 at the start, and you know, the whole 4th edition Spellplague and whatnot, but...

As I've gotten older, I've become less a fan of the dreaded 'women in refrigerators'. Paul does that to Vara, the mother of Vasen Cale. Some might argue that it's some weird necessary trial or tribulation but hey, he gets raised by a stepfather of sorts and that character dies off screen.

That's because by the time we're introduced to Vasen, he's thirty years old.

There was absolutely no reason why Vara couldn't have had the same kindly end. When something similar happens, later on, it's enough to get an eye roll from me.

I'm also not a fan of the whole time jump thing. In this book, in many ways,  it's even more obnoxious than in others.

Riven: One of the three who has the divine might of Mask in his shadowy blood. Waiting for Vasen to grow up. Oh, he's undergone many a change in the waiting time mind you and in that aspect, is probably one of the few who has.

Cale: Trapped under ice. In hell. So yeah, not a lot of character development for him eh?

Rivalen: He's one of the other three who has a shard of Mask's divinity. His name is also way too similar to Riven. He's one of Shar's Chosen and has sat for the last one hundred years looking at a tear in reality grow larger. Not a lot of development.

Magadon: The half devil literally spent the entire time in a bar waiting for something to happen. Anyone see a pattern here?

Mephistopheles: Been ducking a call from his boss for the last one hundred years until he could get some more divine energy.

Brennus: Brother of Rivalen, one of the Shadovar. A master of magic, a specialist in divination. He's spent the last one hundred years looking for a way to kill his brother Rivalen.

So all of the main characters from the previous series have been letting moss grow on them.

The new characters, or at least the main ones, keep things moving. Vasen Cale is a paladin, a dawnsword, a man whose spent his life in the shadows of Sembia. He's protected the Oracle his whole life. He's the one with the most seniority.

A strange being, Orsin, a deva, one whose lived many lives, befriends him. The duo makes a solid pairing. Paul has always had a solid grip on making characters move forward and take to the action.

And it's this ability of Paul's to move characters, even characters who've literally been sitting on their backside for one hundred years, to action, that makes this a solid read. One that I finished in a day.

When the pieces all line up, the action happens. There are those who, under the assumption that Mephistopheles is to be trusted in any shape, Zeeahad and Sayeed, two who have been cursed by the Spellplauge, are hunting the son of Cale. Mephisopheles believes that the son has the answers he needs.

In their hunting, we get to see what monstrous characters they are. They make a great evil duo to cast contrast against Orsin and Vasen.

We also have Paul's little nods to repetition that work well, especially when dealing with sayings that the faithful would have. For example, Rivalen notes on many occasions "Your bitterness is sweet to my lady." A great bit acknowledging Shar and her dark desires.

There's also the fact that for all the importance the Sundering is supposed to have, this story, this here very story, is in its own way, far more important. The hole in reality that Shar has started and that is growing, will eclipse all wars. Will eclipse all personal matters. Will devour the world itself and all those who are in it. Against this, the war of the Shades against the Dales, against The Forest Kingdom, those are all petty bit players in the grander scheme of things.

And Paul captures that epicness well.

Paul wraps up his chapter of the Sundering leaving the Forgotten Realms changed and a little more familiar. It allows those who hope to see Cale or who want to see more of his son in future adventures, to have that opportunity. Someday. Maybe. As you know, Wizards of the Coast may in some distant future decide to actually publish more fiction.

I know I've picked on Paul a bit for what I saw as weaknesses in the pulling together of the characters. But honestly, I don't know how much of that was on Paul. When you work in a shared setting, while it's great to have access to long known characters like Shar and Mask, the peril of having to work on 'event' bits like how the last series ended or the very necessity of this book itself, the 'Sundering', show that it has its own perils.

Glad to see that Paul's been doing his own work lately. with Egil and Nix. I've got the first book in my queue and it's just waiting for (more) free time to devour it.

Am I being too hard on the Forgotten Realms? Or the shared setting? Or the whole Spellplague and the whole Sundering? Or were these big events the death knell of the fiction line?

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Ms Marvel: Vol Three: Crushed

I've enjoyed the trade adventures of Ms Marvel. This volume keeps that going up to a point.

It starts with a great crossover with Loki, when Loki was doing his good guy bit. One of the problems with the Marvel setting is that so many of the characters go through so many changes, it's hard to know which version of a character you're dealing with at a time.

But I'm vaguely familiar with this 'Loki agent of Asgard' bit and his interactions with Ms Marvel are top notch. It combines a bit of fun, humor, and action like a good comic should. Oh, and teen angst. Don't forget the teen angst!

It leads to Loki warding the school itself against future villains which is a nice touch and a nice little plot device that can be used in future issues.

Oh, and to top it off, it takes place during a Valentine's Dance. The author hit all the cylinders here.

But onto the new story which starts in New Attilan, as Marvel is trying to make the Inhumans into the next big thing, we start with Ms Marvel training with the Inhumans. It's nice to see an occasional bit of training. It provides some actual context to how the characters learn how to use their powers. It's also not the first time Ms Marvel has been seen in training as in her earlier appearances, after a sound beating, she trained to overcome her adversaries.

The author continues to bring in the family and makes the Khan's very relatable. A mother worried about her daughter out jogging alone for example? That's a pretty standard concern no?

The 'problem' I have with this portion? It's not the introduction of Kamran, a young lad that Kamala is instantly smitten with. It's not the fact that he too is an Inhuman. I'm okay with that. It's not the introduction of Kaboom, another new super villain.

Spoiler alert!

It's not even the fact that he's the bad guy. I'm okay with that too. Star-crossed lovers and all that jazz right?

It's Lineage. He's apparently the king of the Inhumans from out of nowhere. It's disjoining.

I've often praised comics like Ms Marvel (Runaways, Young Avengers, etc...) that are self-contained. That you can read and understand them without knowing what's going on in the rest of the Marvel setting. It allows them to skip most of the big crossovers and instead of having their own flow ruined by the big events, allows them the build up the characters of their own book.

The introduction of Lineage from off stage as the new Inhuman boss? With no information on it happening in the actual book? Poorly done.

Next up is a crossover with SHIELD. I'm not a regular SHIELD reader so I'm pretty out of the loop on the characters but it's more of how seeing another author handles Ms Marvel and it's done well.  It's nice seeing another artist take a crack at her too. More traditional with the brighter colors.

Outside of the Lineage introduction, it's a solid collection and cements Ms Marvel's place in the greater Marvel Universe even if that means her own title gets the occasional goofy bit of continuity thrown in.

If you're looking for super hero comics that aren't all grim and angsty and have depth and plot to them without delving into death and destruction, Ms Marvel is a good pick.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Death of Promises: The Half Orcs Book III

Book Three of the Half-Orcs brings us up to The Death of Promises. Written by David Dalglish, this volume brings a lot of the Paladins work into the Half-Orcs in a much fuller manner than previously.

Before I ramble on too much though, let me just point out that the cover featuring one of the two paladins of Ashur left alive, whose divine power comes not through his sword, but through his shield, is facing off against the magic-wielding half-orc and his unnamed flaming whip. It's a fantastic piece. The necromantic presence of the undead behind the half-orc, the clash of contrast of the warm colors off the whip against the cool colors of the shield. It's a great piece.

The cast of characters and the world building continue to grow.Quarrah Tun and his insane lover Tessanna, who it turns out is essentially an avatar of the Earth Goddess of this setting, decide the best way to move onto their next steps, is to steal an ancient tome and learn it's secrets.

That tome is being held in a church of the 'good' god of the setting, Ashur. So doing what any good necromancer would, Quarrah raises the dead of that god and attacks the church leading to some epic combats between one of the last paladins of Ashur and the necromancer, as depicted on the cover. The nice thing about the Paladin here, Jerico? Despite his holy power being unique in that it powers his shield, he does have a magical mace, 'Bone Breaker', which would make a great magic item in any fantasy RPG. (Personally, I've used something similar in 1st and 2nd Edition D&D just used a Sword of Sharpness rules but instead of cutting the limb off, it breaks it.)

The second half of the book takes place in the siege of the city of Veldaren. Here the 'good' half-orc, Harrauq and his wife, along with their mercenary comrades, are still dealing with the aftermath of losing those dear to them from the last volume and finding new friends. Among these friends is another paladin of Ashur whose 'friend', Mira,  is another avatar of the Earth Goddess.

Turns out these avatars of the Earth Goddess are only supposed to show up once every blue moon and there have never been two around at the same time and it's usually not a good sign if there are two around at a time. An imbalance of sorts eh?

The brothers come back together in an epic clash as all the horrors of the world, various beast men ranging from birds and wolves to orcs and undead, assault the city. This isn't some random assault. It's not some attack against the city merely for the sake of bloodlust. Rather, the city is built upon the entrance point of the two gods to the world.

That's a clever bit of world building that leads back into how young the setting itself is.

Part of the problem the series suffers is that there are so many 'unique' and special characters. Jerico and his unique shield of faith. The Half-Orcs themselves being half-orc and half-elf pulling in massive amounts of power from somewhere. Velixar the reborn face changing creature who rises again and again. The two avatars of the Earth Goddess. I could go on but that small list in and of itself should be sufficient to note that we're not dealing with small matters here.

By the end of the novel, things are not looking up as a new, more powerful antagonist is introduced. It's a good way to end the novel and set up for the next book with the various forces in the setting that are waging war getting larger and the stakes themselves getting larger.

If you like quick moving high fantasy with high-powered heroes and villains, The Half-Orcs should scratch that itch.