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.