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Untold Adventures Anthology

Posted by travizzt on July 21, 2011

Twelve short stories set in the various universe of Dungeons of Dragons spin wondrous tales of Untold Adventures.

Untold Adventures Anthology

Untold Adventures was released June 2011 and published by Wizards of the Coast LLC. There are twelve short stories that span each of the popular Dungeons and Dragons worlds; Dark Sun, Eberron, Forgotten Realms, and the Dungeons and Dragons self-titled universe. The short stories are written by John Shirley, Alan Dean Foster, Lisa Smedman, Mike Resnick, Kay Kenyon, Sarah Zettel, Paul Park, Kevin J. Anderson, Ed Greenwood, Rosemary Jones, Jody Lynn Nye, and Jay Lake. Most of the authors are new to writing a Dungeons and Dragons based story, but there are a few veterans. After each story there is a brief biography of each author.

“Under the Plains of Rust” by John Shirley
Set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
Gnarl is just a simple worker at a local tavern, that happens to have dubious side profession. Because of this, he meets a cursed, dying warlock that asks for his help remove the curse. All he needs to do is recruit a dwarven artisan and his adopted ranger daughter, travel to the Elemental Chaos, brave the Plains of Rust, and unlock a secret. But there’s a problem, things don’t go according to plan.
Criticisms:
1) Characters. The three main characters in “Under the Plains of Rust” are poorly developed, not even one-dimensional characters. These characters just do things. That’s it. They just do things. They don’t question it, they just do it. They don’t have any real personalities, feel vapid, and seem relatively stupid. There is nothing defining about them and they really only feel like any normal word written on the page.
2) Story. “Under the Plains of Rust” has a poorly paced, unexciting, and plain stupid story. It could have been interesting, but things just happen. There’s no rhyme or reason for it, other than it must be done. There are things that happen in the story that are never really established. At one point, Gnarl starts to go a little crazy, but it’s over in about two paragraphs. The story doesn’t stay on one thing for very long, in fact it almost doesn’t know how to continue and is forced to quickly resolve the problem. There isn’t any real build up or suspense. It’s just a boring story.
Praises:
None.
Overall: 1/5
Thoughts:
“Under the Plains of Rust” is an extremely frustrating story. The characters are a mess. They have nothing going for them. They aren’t remotely developed and just do things for no logical reason. They are just vapid, unlikable characters who are little more than words on the page. The story is also a fact paced, unexciting nightmare of boring. There is no suspense or build up, and things are resolved in a matter of moments. Everything about this story is boring.

“The Steel Princess” by Alan Dean Foster
This story takes place in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
Ruhan Bijendra is on a simple mission; he must find a way to save his brother from dying. The rakshasa, a feline humanoid with backwards hands who are seen as demons, learns of a way to save him. In order to help his brother, he just has to ask for the aid of a being made of blades.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Ruhan. Ruhan was an excellent character. From the beginning you were introduced to who he was, but in a way that makes him seems more familiar than he is. It was as though you already knew him. This is perfect because he felt developed right away, and for the rest of the story he continued in becoming his own character. He felt distinctive in such a short amount of time. Quite frankly, I would love to read more about him.
2) Story. “The Steel Princess” is a fantastically simple and fun story. The pacing is perfect, the prose is perfect, and the premise is interesting. There isn’t much that actually happens, in reality there is only two major events in this short story, but it makes it seem like there’s more going on. It’s just a fun story, and it leaves you wanting to read more.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“The Steel Princess” is a great short story with a memorable and fun character. Ruhan is different and distinctive. He almost instantly liked, and that like just continued to grow. It could have been because of his odd qualities, considering what he is, but there’s more to that. He’s a character that you want to know and doesn’t have that forced feeling to him. The story itself is simple, fun experience. The pacing is wonderful, the prose is good, and it has an interesting idea behind it. I wasn’t expecting this story to end how it did, but I’m pleasantly surprised how the whole thing turned out.

“Tallfolk Tales” by Lisa Smedman
This story is set in the Forgotten Realms setting.
A man named Morndin is asked to help lead an elf though some tunnels. The man turns down the offer, but tells the elf who would be better for the job, in the most roundabout manner possible.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Perspective. “Tallfolk Tales” has an interestingly different way of telling the story. It’s told in a first person, second person, fourth wall breaking manner that was surprisingly enjoyable. I didn’t expect to ever find a story like that. It’s blended so well that I actually thought Morndin was talking to me, and when he paused and answered a question, I was surprised to find myself asking the unspoken question. It was interesting how the story just brought you in, and made you feel a part of it.
2) Story. “Tallfolk Tales” is a simple, fun story. The roundabout manner that Morndin tells it in just adds to the fun. It feels like lighthearted romp that isn’t, and shouldn’t be, taken seriously. It’s just a fun story.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“Tallfolk Tales” is a fun story that’s told in a uniquely different way. The interesting blend of perspectives, relaying heavily on first person but adding dashes of second, makes you feel like you actually are a part of the story. It really brings you in. The story itself is a fun, lighthearted story that can be easily liked. It’s one of those stories that effortlessly pulls the reader in and makes you feel like you’re a part of it.

“The Foundling” by Mike Resnick
This story takes place in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
Charybole has just lost her daughter to a deadly creature. As a year passes, she hears crying out by a stream and discovers a young githyanki, a mortal enemy of the githzerai. Deciding that leaving the child in the wild to die isn’t the right thing to do, she takes it back to her home. However, news of the child circulates and it’s decided that the child must die. Unwilling to have her fellow githzerai kill the baby, she runs away with it. But the githzerai will stop at nothing to kill the child.
Criticisms:
1) Ending. The ending of “The Foundling” felt very lackluster. It wasn’t a bad ending, but it felt too safe and common. It also left a lot in the air and didn’t really feel like an ending. It brought up more questions that really just go unanswered.
Praises:
1) Dark. “The Foundling” is a very dark story. With everything that the story deals with, it’s hard to not to see the darker tone of this story. With Charybole’s depressing past, the vivid details of some events, the death of her child, and being an outcast from your own kind, not to mentioned wanting to be killed by them, really make this is a very dark story. It’s also a very different shift from the previous stories. That helps this one stand out a bit more.
2) Maternal Love. You can really feel the how much Charybole cares for this child. Even though the child is from a race that is hated by hers, you can see that she looks past that. It also gives the age-old question of “Are people born evil, or is it learned”. But by the end of the story, you really see how a mother’s love can impact the personality of a child.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“The Foundling” is a good story, but has a lackluster ending. The ending wasn’t terrible, but it felt too safe and left a lot of unanswered questions floating in the air. But this story does a good job in standing out from the previous ones, due to the dark tone. There is a lot of depressing and disturbing things that happen in this story, and I love these kinds of stories. Also, the relationship between Charybole and the infant is a very interesting one. It really shows that a mother’s love can impact a child. This is just a very different story that really does a good job in making you remember it.

“The Forge of Xen’drik” by Kay Kenyon
This story takes place in the Eberron universe.
Ravon Kell, a former army officer of the Last War, is now a slave with no hope. The slaves are forced into making a large amount of weapons deep in the jungles of Xen’drik, where the huge forge is easily hidden. However, when Ravon learns of how the weapons will be made, he knows he must stop it.
Criticisms:
1) Characters. The characters of “The Forge of Xen’drik” seem very run of the mill and usual in a fantasy story. They don’t really feel that unique. There are still some well-developed characters, Ravon and the elf Nastra. However, they didn’t really add anything that new, and they were only really interesting due to their respective pasts. Everyone else seemed generic.
Praises:
1) Interactions. While the characters are aren’t that interesting on their own, their interactions between one another are. You can really get to know them and see some of the layers on a few. The way that Ravon talks to the forge master was great. You can really see Ravon’s contempt and hatred towards him, but in a subdued manner. It also helps that these exchanges were fairly funny.
2) Eberron. “The Forge of Xen’drik” gives the reader a wonderful look into the world. It gives enough background to allow the reader to understand how this world works, without it becoming too drawn out. You really get a feel for the world.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“The Forge of Xen’drik” is a good story with some very run of the mill characters. The characters didn’t really feel any different from the usual fantasy character and only two seemed to be interesting, mostly due to their pasts. Thankfully, the interactions between the characters really added a lot to the story. You can really get a feel to who the character is through these interactions, and from that you can see some of their layers. This is also a good story to introduce someone into the world of Eberron. It gives a lot of background without becoming to bogged down in it and keeps it interesting. It’s not a perfect example of the world, but it will whet your appetite.

“Arena of Shadows” by Sarah Zettel
This story takes place in the Eberron universe.
Kalev Shadowfall is sent on a mission to stop a series of murders. He tries to stop the next killing from occurring, but fails. Then things go from bad to worse. Kalev’s investigation of the new murder is interrupted as a woman enters and beings searching for something. But before they can find it, a creature appears with the object in its hands and escapes, leading the duo on a chase. Determined to find out what is going on, Kalev continues to investigate, but soon realizes that he is way in over is head.
Criticisms:
1) Generic. If you read “Arena of Shadows”, you soon realize that this could have taken place in any fantasy world. Aside from one or two references to Eberron, the bulk of the story feels very generic in the setting. It’s not a big criticism, but having something like this be that noticeable in an anthology dealing with all kinds of fantasy worlds, it just doesn’t have that unique setting feel to it.
Praises:
1) Characters. The characters were definitely interesting. As the story goes on you got to really know Kalev, who he is and what he does. It’s just a nice reveal. The same can be said about Vix, the woman who is searching for the object. While she doesn’t get as much time in the spotlight, she’s still a very well-developed and interesting character. These are characters that you want to see again.
2) Mystery. “Arena of Shadows” has this mystery story atmosphere to it. It feels almost like a murder mystery or a mystery to find the missing object. Some of the events in the story really bring to mind something you would see in those kinds of stories. For example, Kalev likes to reevaluate the things he learns, and from this, he comes up with new hypotheses based on the new information. The story just has this interesting mystery feel to it.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Arena of Shadows” is a good story but doesn’t have the real feel of an Eberron novel. It’s not a big issue, but it just has this feel of a generic setting and the only thing that makes it seem like a Eberron novel is the inclusion of a warforged. Thankfully, the characters are interesting. Kalev has a nice reveal of who he is and what he does. He’s an interesting character that you really got to know during the story. Vix is another one, but she wasn’t in the spotlight as much. At the end of the novel, I really wanted to read more about these characters and see them in the future. “Arena of Shadows” has a nice mystery story feel to it, while not being a complete mystery story. It gives this story something different and helps make it more enjoyable.

“Watchers at the Living Gate” by Paul Park
This story is set in the Forgotten Realms.
After nine years of visiting a ruined village and seeing a girl, Haggar thinks he’s ready. For what, he doesn’t know as he is transported into the Feywild. While there, he learns that he’s been recruited to stop creatures from entering the world and to close up the gate the creatures are coming from.
Criticisms:
1) Story. “Watchers at the Living Gate” is an interesting story that has one major flaw, it’s confusing. It’s not confusing plot-wise, but in execution. For half of the story, it’s really hard to figure out what is going on. Every paragraph jumps from story to background to description and then back to story. It doesn’t just stay with the story long enough, and seems to focus more on background information about the world and random things.
2) Climax. What did happen during the climax of “Watchers at the Living Gate”? The whole climax was this terrible blend of actions, thoughts, ideals, and beliefs. These things aren’t put into a logical and understandable order, causing everything to feel very mixed up. It’s so badly mixed up that it’s really hard to get through and come away satisfied.
Praises:
1) Characters. The characters in “Watchers at the Living Gate” were interesting, if they were given more time to develop and were allowed to be explored more. Haggar didn’t feel like a normal hero. He was self-conscious, quiet, and not typical. However, he had this wisdom about him that you didn’t expect. He was really hard to pin down exactly what kind of character he is, but this made him engaging and different. The other main character really stole the story. Astriana was really unique. She had a lot of personality and quirks that made her really stick out. There’s not much more to say about her, else it would ruin the discovery. The characters weren’t typical and that made them interesting.
Overall: 2/5
Thoughts:
“Watchers at the Living Gate” was a story with a lot of promise, but ends up being confusing. The story doesn’t stay with the story, instead it focuses more on the background, history, and descriptions of the world. The story just suffers because of this. This is more apparent in the climax and the end. It’s hard to really tell what’s happening do to the mash-up of all the actions and thoughts going on all at once. It give the story a really lackluster climax. The characters were interesting because they aren’t typical. Haggar isn’t your typical hero, he’s quiet and self-conscious. Astriana had a lot of personality, but it wasn’t an expected personality. The story could have been more enjoyable if it didn’t feel like a confusing mess.

“Blood Oasis” by Kevin J. Anderson
This story is set in the Dark Sun universe.
Jisanne has seen what Athas once was, before defiling magic turned it into a dying world. Unfortunately, the same magic allows her to see and be in that world, for a limited time. After being rescued by an escaped gladiator, Koram, she decides to show him what it once was like. If only they could make the change permanent.
Criticisms:
1) Exposition. There is a real lack of exposition in some of the things brought up about the Dark Sun universe. Most of this lack of background happens when we are introduced to Koram. During this time, there is a slew of names, events, and terms dropped that only those very, very familiar with the world of Dark Sun would probably understand. Because of this, it makes “Blood Oasis” hard for newcomers to quickly understand.
Praises:
1) Premise. The premise of seeing Athas like it once was is very intriguing. It really makes you want to learn what happened to the once lush and beautiful world. Also the whole concept that using the magic that destroyed the world allows the caster to see it as it once was is very ironic but interesting. It’s very ironic, but it works surprisingly well. This is the kind of story that makes you interested in learning more.
2) Characters. The two main characters, Jisanne and Koram, were surprising. The two are similar in many ways, but feel very different. Koram was the more typical of the two, but it still was interesting to learn more about him. He’s a man with no purpose and you really get that feeling about him. Jisanne was the more interesting one. She was complex and felt more fleshed out. She doesn’t have a purpose for living, but you get the sense that there’s something driving her. It could be the joy of seeing old Athas, but she just has a drive to live, and you can really see and respect that. There was something about the two characters that you just liked.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“Blood Oasis” may leave someone new to Dark Sun in the dark, but is still a surprising story. There isn’t any real exposition about the world and the terms used, causing those new to Dark Sun to be slightly confused. It’s not a big problem, and only happens here and there, but it’s noticeable enough to take you out of the story. But after seeing the world of Athas before it turned into a desert wasteland, makes you want to know more about what happened. It wasn’t something expected and the irony of how it’s accomplished is a great twist. The characters are also good. Koram is the more typical of the two, and his lack of purpose is surprisingly easy to identify with. Jisanne was just great because, while similar to Koram, she seemed more fleshed out and interesting. “Blood Oasis” is a good story, but you need to know a few things about Dark Sun before reading.

“Lord of the Darkways” by Ed Greenwood
This story is set in the Forgotten Realms universe.
Manshoon wants to control Zhentil Keep, and the only way to do that is to control the merchant powers of the city. In order to do that, he creates a spell that will kill anyone using the merchant lords hidden teleportation gates. However, his plans are soon ruined by the mighty Elminster.
Criticisms:
1) Knowledge. If you were to read “Lord of the Darkways” without prior knowledge of who Manshoon and Elminster are, you would most likely be lost and confused. Even if you have passing knowledge of these two characters, you’ll be lost and confused. But that’s just the cusp of what you need to know in order to really understand this story. It’s packed with references, names, and places that only the really devote Forgotten Realms fans will fully understand, and even then they may have a hard time. Nothing is explained. It’s you know it, or you know it. If you don’t, you’re out of luck.
2) Rushed. “Lord of the Darkways” has this frantic pacing to it. This is surprising seeing as the story is sixty-three pages long and is the longest story in the anthology. Things just happen too quickly that you don’t even know what exactly happened. For a long short story, why does it feel so rushed and hectic?
Praises:
1) Straightforward. “Lord of the Darkways” is surprisingly straightforward. It doesn’t really branch off as much as usual Ed Greenwood short stories do and it’s surprisingly contained to Elminster ‘fixing’ the Darkways. It’s still written very confusingly, but still relatively easier to follow than other short stories Ed Greenwood has written.
Overall: 2/5
Thoughts:
“Lord of the Darkways” is a rushed, confusing mess that still is relatively straightforward and easier to follow the main plot. It’s still a mess, but it’s a mess you can kind of follow. The major problem with the short story is that you going to be lost in all the references and names dropped in the story. It’s almost to the point of only hardcore Forgotten Realms fans would understand, and even then, it may be hard to know who’s who and what’s what. Also, for being the longest short story in this anthology series, it’s rushed. Things happen and you don’t know why or how they happen. They just happen. Thankfully, it still is kind of easy to follow, in the broadest terms possible. It’s straightforward and doesn’t really go into randomness that is accustomed to normal Ed Greenwood short stories. It’s still a confusing mess, but one you can understand.

“Dreaming of Waterdeep” by Rosemary Jones
This story is set in the Forgotten Realms universe.
After meeting a small group of adventurers, young Gustin Bone wants to go with them. Unfortunately for young Gustin, his uncle won’t let him and that causes the ten-year old to run away. After finding the adventurers, he soon realizes that he isn’t prepared for what’s ahead.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Characters. Gustin Bone was a fun character to read about. He acted like a child, wanting to run away when he doesn’t get his way, but was surprisingly mature and calm. The other characters didn’t really play that big of a part, but really did help add the necessary elements to the story. While not really being great, they played their parts well.
2) Story. “Dreaming of Waterdeep” is a very simple and fun story. There isn’t anything very complex about it, but the simplicity really worked well. It’s your common ‘runaway from home’ story and it worked to its advantage. This was the kind of story that didn’t need to be complex, it just needed to be fun and it succeeded in that.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“Dreaming of Waterdeep” is a fun, simple story. Gustin Bone is an interesting character, he acted like a normal ten-year old, but with some maturity that younger children can have. The other characters weren’t that remarkable, but they didn’t need to be. They just did what they had to do, and were still fun doing it. The story wasn’t very complex, but it didn’t need to be. This is the kind of story that you should expect from an anthology, a short, fun experience where you come away satisfied.

“To Chaos and Back Again” by Jody Lynn Nye
This story is set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
After stealing a magical rock, a group of halflings were thought heroes when returning to their village. They braved countless dangers to recover it, but it turns out that the rock has powers that are what they weren’t expecting. Now the same group has to go back and return the rock, facing the same dangers over again.
Criticisms:
1) Characters. The halflings in the story all felt the same, aside from the main character Bab. However, even then Bab only felt different because he was the main character. There’s nothing that really made these characters feel different, aside from their skills. There’s a magic user, locksmith, and a tracker, but personality-wise, they all felt the same.
Praises:
1) Excitement. “To Chaos and Back Again” is a very exciting, fast paced story. There is a lot of stuff happening and it doesn’t leave you with time to catch your breath. Normally, this is hinders a story from being understandable. Thankfully, this story has a very simple premise and the action really meshes well with it. This makes the story exciting.
Overall: 3/5
Thoughts:
“To Chaos and Back Again” is a fairly enjoyable story, but doesn’t feel like anything more than alright. The characters all felt the same, the only difference with them is what skills they had. Bab, the main character, was the only defining character. Unfortunately, that is only due to him being the main character. They all just felt the same. The story was still exciting though. It was fast paced, with a lot of action and things going on. Usually I would find stories like this hard to follow, but the simple premise really made everything that was going on easy to follow. But all in all, this is just an average story that doesn’t really stand out.

“The Decaying Mansions of Memory” by Jay Lake
This story is set in the Dungeons and Dragons universe.
Downtrodden Horn is reminiscing about his past and everything he’s been through. After going through all his memories, he recalls an event where he searches for a purpose. After visiting a lost temple and getting a quest to recover an artifact for the remaining monks there, Horn is granted something that he never expected and leaves destiny to a deck of chance.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Horn. “The Decaying Mansions of Memory” is a character-driven story and learning about Horn really makes this story great. You really get a good feel of who Horn is. By looking into Horn’s life, you really start to understand him. The flashbacks of his past also help in making him more interesting.
2) Story. This is a character-driven story and it does its job in making you understand Horn. The story does a great job in fleshing out Horn through the use of flashbacks. These flashbacks are entwined with the narrative almost flawlessly, giving it a seamless and smooth feel. It doesn’t stay on these flashbacks too long, and only really focuses on them long enough to really show what he’s been through, helping flesh him out more. It’s just a great story of a man and what he’s been through and how he ended up where he is.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“The Decaying Mansions of Memory” is a great story, but it’s hard to really talk about it in too much detail without spoiling the fantastic story. Horn is a wonderful character and is really fleshed out because it really does focus on only him and his past. It’s a character-driven story and because of this, you really start to like him. It’s just a great story with an interesting character, and to say too much would spoil it.

OVERALL AVERAGED ANTHOLOGY: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
Untold Adventures has a lot of wonderful stories, but it leaves me feeling like it should have been something different or it could have had more variety. For an anthology showcasing the various Dungeons and Dragons settings, it felt more focused on just two; the Forgotten Realms and the Dungeons and Dragons settings. While the Forgotten Realms is the more well-known, it would have been nice to see an even amount of stories between Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Dark Sun, and Dungeons and Dragons. It would also have been nice to see some past setting being revisited; for example Ravenloft or even Dragonlance. Also, it’s not the kind of anthology that can be recommended to new readers or those who are interested. There is a serious lack of exposition of some the races, locations, and ideas, along with how the setting are different. This is really for those who are acquainted with the worlds. I do find that a little disappointing because I almost saw this book as a way to introduce new readers into the worlds, but it really doesn’t do that. Don’t get me wrong, this still is a wonderful anthology book with a lot of great stories and there really is something for everyone. But it’s geared more towards those familiar with the settings and worlds. It’s still worth checking out, and you may yourself interested in the various settings.

Stories Worth Reading:
1) “The Steel Princess” by Alan Dean Foster
2) “Tallfolk Tales” by Lisa Smedman
3) “Dreaming of Waterdeep” by Rosemary Jones
4) “The Decaying Mansions of Memories” by Jay Lake

Stories to Avoid:
1) “Under the Plains of Rust” by John Shirley

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