REF5: Lords of Darkness (1988)

REF5: Lords of Darkness (1988) continues the format of the Books of Lairs, though under the Forgotten Realms setting banner (this is one of the first wave FR books, in fact!). Instead of any monsters, though, Lords focuses exclusively on the undead. Like, all of them — skeletons, ghouls and ghasts, shadows, wights, a mummies, spectres, vampires, ghosts and a lich. Because the list of critters is shorter, the encounters are all longer, really more like short adventures, really. Most of the undead are fully realized NPCs rather than generic foes, which broadens their tactics, their potential weaknesses and still feels like a noteworthy detail even five years after Ravenloft laid out the appeal of richly rendered foes. There’s also a section on methods of dealing with the undead, which is quite fun and detailed, and new spells for necromancers, because of course there are.

The adventures themselves are…fine? I feel like they are more interesting as artifacts of the early days of the Realms, as the published record was rapidly establishing a world that echoes Greenwood’s private realm. Most are just passing references. Some fade into history, others (like the references to Ravens Bluff) feel emblematic of the time. Some would have long legacies, like the Nether Scrolls, which are introduced here. Jennell Jaquays’ is probably the most interesting, as it riffs a bit on I2: Tomb of the Lizard King, with a lizard man mummy instead of a lizard man vampire. The vampires, the brothers Jonathan and Jeremiah Morningmist, have excellent, Ravenloft-y names, too.

Karl Waller is the interior artist, though he doesn’t get nearly enough space (he’d go on to gorgeously define Al-Qadim). Cover by Jeff Easley. That man is aces at painting skeletons, I tell ya. Its delightfully autumnal, too.

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