Saturday, March 16, 2013

Review: Queen of the Demonweb Pits

Caution: Spoilers (both of the novel and the module it's based on)

We come now to the final volume of Paul Kidd's Greyhawk trilogy, following up on White Plume Mountain and Descent into the Depths of the Earth; Queen of the Demonweb Pits. Published in 2001, this novel is a direct follow-up to the previous one, taking place almost immediately after the events of Descent into the Depths of the Earth.

Set in CY 583, we are back with the faerie princess Escalla, the brooding ranger the Justicar, Enid the sphinx, Cinders the sentient hell hound pelt, Polk (now a badger, having been reincarnated by a druid), talking magic sword Benelux, and Henry, a young warrior that the group picked up on their adventures.

The plot revolves around the demon queen Lolth's desire for revenge following her reversal in the Vault of the Drow in the previous adventure. Following his previous pattern, Kidd doesn't provide us with a recital of how a group of PCs might approach the published module; rather, he uses the module as the basis for an entirely new plot, demonstrating yet again the versatility of the old "location based" modules for a game master with imagination. We see the giant steam-driven spider-palace and the titular Demonweb Pits itself, but now in the context of Lolth's invasion of the Flanaess as she gates in a demonic army to sweep through Furyondy.

While the army is ravaging the countryside, our heroes travel to the Abyss to confront and ultimately defeat Lolth on her home ground, while at the same time both Escalla and the Justicar are tracked by a pair of enemies with grudges, brought into the action by Lolth specifically to enact her revenge. Needless to say, the second-stringers are dealt with and Lolth herself is eventually destroyed by falling into a portable hole filled with holy water. All is well, and the Justicar and Escalla are wed, but not after freeing Enid from the afterlife (!) which involves a confrontation with the Egyptian God Thoth (!!).

I've got to say that, although this book was very well done, I simply didn't enjoy it as much as I did the previous two. The sharp edged repartee between the Justicar and Escalla was missing, now that their romance has blossomed, and the change in the dynamics within the group was definitely felt. The novel feels a bit... softer... than the other two. This feeling is not helped by the fact that Lolth, as presented here, seems almost ditzy, and only her indentured handmaiden Morag (a Type V Demon) seems able to keep her focused on anything. (The "overly efficient and lawful demon assistant" is a character that also comes up in Gygax's Gord the Rogue books, as we shall see, in the character of Vuron.)

The final chapter, in which the characters actually infiltrate the afterlife and make a fool out of the God Thoth, seems tacked on, especially since it hand-waves an apparently arduous adventure among the outer planes to find the water from the river Mnemos to restore Enid's memory after being in the river Lethe. Why both with this, when a simple raise dead spell could solve the problem? It feels like Kidd was told to pad out the book so it went past 300 pages.

This book also creates some canon issues. Lolth is dead as of CY 583? There was a major demonic invasion in Furyondy and nobody seems to have noticed? The best sorts of novels are ones that don't describe enormous changes in the setting, especially changes which are contradicted (or not corroborated) by other sources.

Despite my enthusiasm for Kidd as a writer, and for these characters specifically, these faults must bring down my rating for this particular outing, which is unfortunate. I give it three wizards out of five.


Archaeopteryx said...

The fallout from events of this novel are only a problem if one insists that all the various novels and adventure modules in a campaign setting have continuity with each other. This leads to the ridiculous mess that was 3rd edition Forgotten Realms, or White Wolf's old World of Darkness, both of which creaked and groaned underneath their respective metaplots.

Better to follow Eberron's example of using the campaign setting as a baseline and assuming every adventure and novel are non-canon this-COULD-happen possibilities.

That way especially later modules don't get screwed over by having to assume certain events in previous modules happened, when instead the PCs about to run through it just set everything on fire instead.

Shane Cubis said...

Seems strange to talk about how a creative GM can make one of an infinite number of stories from a location-based module...then get upset when the author does exactly that.

Joseph Bloch said...

I'm not "upset". I was commenting on the issues with canon that arise in an officially-published novel that makes changes to the setting that are not referenced elsewhere. That's a different thing from using a novel to highlight different ways in which the location can be utilized to advance a plot in a campaign.

Archaeopteryx said...

Having the setting at large ignore events in novels (and modules) is a GOOD thing. Otherwise one ends up with the God-forsaken mess that is Forgotten Realms continuity, which can render decades of setting material worthless if, for instance, one's players happened to kill one of the major players in those events when he was still a nobody little mortal. Or if a novel decides to have major events occur in places the PCs hang out in, and kill off major npcs that the players interact with regularly.

Yes, one can ignore whatever setting changes these introduce, but that tends to render any future products involving areas one ignores worthless, because they will assume the events happened.

Eberron's model of not allowing any adventure or novel be canon events, thus allowing them to do whatever the Hell they like to the setting without having to worry how it effects future products, works out much better.

Joseph Bloch said...

I'm not sure the Greyhawk novels did anything different than you're suggesting, A. After all, Lolth died twice in two different novels!

alzrius said...

The issue with busting Enid out of the afterlife, when they could have used a spell to bring her back, does seem sort of ridiculous, doesn't it?

I'm somewhat surprised I never thought of that. I suppose by that point I had been taken in by the whole trilogy.

Paul W said...

If this is in 583 CY, why are the previous two novels in the series set in 588 CY? Which is right. :)