Lord of the Necropolis
Author: Gene DeWeese
Trivia: This novel explains the nature of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft. This is why the novel is often considered uncanon by the fans. Also, weirdly, in this novel, the module simply never happened!
From the moment I picked this book up I could not put it down. This story is an amazing, if unofficial tale of the events leading up to the Grim Harvest. Told from the perspective of everyone's favorite lich, Azalin Rex, Lord of the Necropolis is the tale of Azalin's struggles to escape the demiplane of dread and his battles against the unseen forces of the Dark Powers. In this tale, Azalin is revealed to be an enigma; cruel and manipulative, yet also honorable and even compassionate. Azalin is no mere cartoon villain, but rather a complex character struggling to control the world around him. Through the story Azalin meets with failure after failure, struggling in vain against the Dark powers, yet with each failure he learns and gains a glimmer of new hope. By the end, even the reader must wonder if Azalin has won a victory, or rather just been goaded by the Dark Powers to continue his torment.
This book attempts to explain the Dark Powers, which breaks the number one taboo of Ravenloft. Though DeWeese can hardly be accused of making a mistake, the book is rightly declared uncanon to preserve the mystery behind the Dark Powers.
I give Lord of the Necropolis five crystal skulls out of five. Fans of Darkon should pick this book up immediately, or else feel the wrath of the Kargat!
Dennis A. Pascale Jr.
Despite countless fans crying "non-canon", IMHO this is an excellent book in the RL series and deserves to be read by all RL fans. Gene DeWeese has given us a complete picture of Azalin Rex (both in his first book in the series "King of the Dead," and this sequel). The reader gets a glimpse into Azalin's side of the stories being told, his background and his motivations. Great fodder and detail for any RL DM!
Yes, DeWeese breaks the dreaded taboo of laying out who (or what) the "Dark Powers" really are and what their ultimate goal is in the grand scheme of the multi-verse. Personally, I liked this version and use it in my current RL campaign. It makes sense. Granted, it is "non-canon," but think of it this way:What if these so-called "Dark Powers" chose to show Azalin what they wanted him to see? Everyone is quick to point out Count Strahd's propeganda in his books, but what if the "Powers" are feeding their own false information to a dread darklord for their own personal interests? If you bare this in mind, you can read the book, and not feel slighted. No one has to except what Azalin is shown (remember the "Dark Powers" have already lied to him by sending him a false spirit -- if you read "King of the Dead" you know what (or whom) I'm talking about). And this books at least gives you one way to view the "Powers", something most of the rulebooks only hint at. Here is a full blown example of one such version.
The other portion of the book that drives fans mad is the fact that the CG modules never happened. But look at the book from a writer's point of view. Each gaming group plays a different way and the modules FtS and RoE will be played out differently by thousands of people. Can you really have one true definitive version of events?To para-phrase Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis, they point out in the Annotated Dragonlance Chronicles..."game modules do not make for great novels." And in DeWeese's case, instead of having Azalin manipulate "a band of heroes," he rolls up his sleeves and does the work himself. I also applaud the writer for working alongside P. N. Elrod and explaining away the vanishing corpse from "I, Strahd." It all ties in nicely and fits in together. You still have the "time-jumping" of the modules but a new take on what happened.
To briefly pause here, it's interesting to note that none of the RL novels focus on a band of heroes that make up most of the gaming groups I know. The only novel that did this was Tanya Huff's "Death of a Darkord," another RL novel that fans critically trash but that's a topic for another review.
I will admit this novel does have it's flaws...all of them do in some way. For example the way Azalin "finds" the "Doomsday Device." But again, in all the modules of the "Grim Harvest" series, Azalin is only encountered midway in the second one, and only for a brief cameo to set off the events that transpire.DeWeese tries to show us what Azalin was doing and thinking during all this time. So it is perfectly possible to assume that while events in "Lord of the Necropolis" were going on, in another part of the land a group of heroes were learning about daggers and crystal skulls and all the other things that developed in the modules.
To sum it up, Gene DeWeese has fleshed out Azalin Rex. He is not simply a powerful lich, but a being that has thoughts, feelings and motivations. It's insights like these that make great villans. If you go into the novel with an open mind and think about the points I've listed above, I think you will find it enjoyable and informative. And like any other good roleplayer out there, take the parts you like and forget about the rest.
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