CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS (2015) is an anthology edited by Marc Tassin and John Helfers which is published by Mechanical Muse. It marks the first Kick-Starter I’ve ever backed. I made the jump both because the book was filled with such amazing writers, and because I trusted Marc Tassin to put out a top-notch product. I certainly was not disappointed. I rarely ever read all the stories in an anthology. I usually jump around choosing specific writers I like, or titles that snare me, leaving the rest for another time. That’s how I started with CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS as well, reading stories by authors I’ve met at the GenCon writers symposium panels, but upon completing each story, I found myself wanting to continue on to see what was happening in other sections of the realm. In the end, I read them all.
Aetaltis is a fantasy world created by Marc Tassin for which he and others have been releasing products playable with the Pathfinder Role Playing System, and are now moving forward with supliments for Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition. As I don’t play Pathfinder and haven’t played D&D for many years, I’m glad he created this way for people like me to enjoy the fun. Each tale does an excellent job introducing a hero or group of heroes embroiled in an early adventure in the world. I loved the detailed map included in the front of the book noting the location where each story takes place. There were a few mentions of races for which I knew nothing about (the drothmal and chee-bat, for instance) but I assume that’s due to my not having played the game before, and it didn’t really detract from the stories.
I always like to list my favorites when reviewing an anthology. That proved an incredibly difficult task in this case because all of them were so fantastic. I don’t want to use that as an excuse though, so here are my top five favorite stories, in the order in which they appear in the anthology. They were: “The Bridge” by Larry Correia, “Bellar’s Thorn” by Jean Rabe, “The Secret of The Holy Crystal” by Marc Tassin, “The Undercity Job” by Dave Gross, and “A Deeper Darkness” by David Farland. I easily could have listed twice as many, so suffice to say, you won’t be disappointed with any story within this CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS anthology.
1. “Mother of Catastrophes” by Erin M. Evans – Melloryn, an elvin spy, and her partner Davros are tasked with finding the irresponsible son of a nobleman who’s gone into the dreaded, magic-warping woodlands known as the Elliyan Wilds. A tough, female orog named Aghi is sent along with them to help deal with the hideous creatures and deadly plant life that reside there. It’s rumored the forest sprung up following a mishap from an elvin queen’s attempt to become a god.
2. “My Doom May Come Soon” by Ed Greenwood – Tarla, a beautiful, acrobatic wall-climbing thief, joins with an insecure alchemist named Faelren to do the bidding of some Master Thieves in the city of Port Vale. While forced to carry out their wishes, she formulates a plan to take down their army of cut-throats and stave off her own doom as long as possible.
3. “The Bridge” by Larry Correia – Lavro, the lone drothmal warrior who’s refused to abandon his post guarding a strategic bridge, meets a courteous fighter named Decimus. Lavro has trouble comprehending why Decimus, who’s an incredibly skilled master combatant, doesn’t act like anyone else he’s met before. This is a really great story about the shifting viewpoints of people from different cultures.
4. “Ashes of Victory” by Elizabeth A. Vaughan – Chief Magisterium Adelphus is perplexed by a dispute he’s charged with ruling over. A dwarven Scribe named Valtos is demanding the return of sacred items that the human adventurer Roncrate liberated from one of their ancient homes that has been overtaken by foul creatures. It’s odd because dwarfs virtually never seek judgment from humans. Even stranger, the older dwarf demands resolution in the form of trial by combat against his much younger adversary. Adelphus knows there’s more at play here than is visible on the surface. Adelphus and Valtose are two great characters you can’t help liking and with whom you want to spend more time.
5. “Tower of The Golden God” by Steven S. Long – A spice hunter named Torvin stumbles across an ancient tower hidden deep within the Zhamayen Jungle which houses immense treasure and terrible danger.
6. “Bellar’s Thorn” by Jean Rabe – Bellar leads his stalwart band of dwarven adventurers into a lost cavern system said to hold an ancient treasure horde. The journey there on their wheeled, overland ship is perilous enough, but once they arrive they find it’s protected by ghastly guardians. I particularly loved what they encountered near the conclusion of the story.
7. “The Warlady’s Daughter” by Lucy A. Snyder – Elyria is a young woman, not yet 18, who spends her days helping her uncle’s bakery business. Her mind often wanders to tales of adventure rather than the boring tasks he’s set for her. One day an army of warrior women arrive and inform her uncle that it’s time for Elyria to join them. She’s shocked to learn her mother is actually a great warrior whom she’s never met. Elyria must deal with learning her past has been a lie while being trained as a warrior herself in a town that doesn’t believe women should be fighters.
8. “Upon Reflection” by Aaron Rosenberg – A dwarf named Thalgon leads his two adventuring friends into his people’s caverns to save an ancestor who’s contacted him through magic to tell him he’s been trapped deep inside for a long time and to ask his help. The caverns are filled with goblins and other dark menaces that will test both their skills and their wits.
9. “A Whole Hearted Halfling” by Melanie Meadors – Kendra is a young halfling who’s been training with her village’s primary defender, a human mage named Gaeben, who possesses a powerful magic staff. She’s recently learned disturbing news about him which leads her to avoid seeking his aid in dealing with a malicious ogre threatening the town.
10. “Vendetta” by Richard Lee Byers – A mercenary in search of riches stops in a small town to lodge for the night. He’s only just arrived when he’s forced to protect a woman and her child that are being attacked by their father who’s been transformed into a monster. The townspeople, grateful for his help, say they believe the transformation is the result of a spell cast on the town by an evil wizard from their nearby rivals. As none of them are trained fighters, they want to hire him to slay the wizard.
11. “True Monsters” by John Helfers – This story begins with a group of young dwarves sneaking into a graveyard to catch a glimpse of Torg, an orog serving as its gravedigger. Terrified by his appearance, they flee the area. In truth, Torg is a gentle giant who constantly resists the darkness inside him to be a productive servant to the local church. Later, when the eldest of the dwarven children named Ella takes charge helping to find a friend who has run off and become lost, she encounters a deadly danger.
12. “Books Are No Good” by Cat Rambo – After a book-loving inn-keeper’s inn is accidentally burned down, she and her adopted daughter head out seeking adventures such as those she loves from her books.
13. “The Secret of The Holy Crystal” by Marc Tassin – Eathen is a young scholar traveling the realm documenting accounts of interest from those who participated or witnessed them. He’s frustrated when every monk he interviews about a group of heroes battling an evil creature relates the exact same account word-for-word. This is explained by the fact that the order share a hive-mind connected by a magic crystal. He’s about to leave when a spirited young acolyte points out a flaw in the story they all told him. This leads the two to try and figure out why the monks would break their solemn codes to lie about the battle. This is a very fun adventure with great characters.
14. “The Undercity Job” by Dave Gross – A band of undersized adventurers of various races take a job that requires them to go beneath the city of Hawk’s Crest to find a lost boy. The ruins of a forgotten city sprawled out below the sewer system is filled with traps, monstrous creatures and an evil cult. The crew must survive these menaces to complete their task, while dealing with a group of heavies after them above ground. This is a fantastic, imaginative heist story filled with great characters and lots of fantasy adventure goodness.
15. “A Deeper Darkness” by David Farland – A young, immortal dragon rider breaks into a rogue orcish prison in order to save an important Atlan noblewoman being held captive there. She was brought to the prison by a powerful entity made of shadow. Aside from these dangers is the mysterious vapor in the torture chamber that transforms anyone who contacts it into hideous monstrosities. This was a fantastic story! I really loved it and wanted it to continue on.
16. “Never A Moon So Bright” by Elaine Cunningham – Oxamia, a shopkeeper who caters to adventurers, is brought a powerful, but cursed, magic staff. This leads her, along with her halfling cleric and elvin mage friends, into conflict with the nefarious necromancer to whom it belongs.
17. “The Wailing Temple” by Mel Odom – In this novelette Crightin and his crew are hired to take Tavesi, a beautiful channeler, to an underground lost city to release a horde of spirits trapped there by a being with god-like powers. Desperate to pay for much needed repairs to his ship and the wages of his crewmen, he agrees to the dangerous mission. The descriptions of the journey to the underground city are really awesome.
Aetaltis Website: http://www.aetaltis.com
Read “The Secret Of The Holy Crystal” by Marc Tassin for free: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1486366537/world-of-aetaltis-rpg-campaign-setting-for-fifth-e/posts/1678123
Review by Matt Cowan