Audio Review of Bernard Setaro Clark’s performance of White Plume Mountain: Dungeons & Dragons: Greyhawk

This book is the predecessor of books like Drew Hayes NPC series.  In the olden days, (I haven’t seen this in most tabletop RPG adventures these days), players could purchase modules that would act as guides for the Dungeon Master.  The DM is a virtual God that decides what happens in any tabletop RPG, based upon the random dice rolled.  Most LitRPG setups use an actual God in place of a literal one.

The story in the original module is simple:  You get a poem that tells you the location of three legendary weapons and you must go into a dungeon and find the three weapons.  There is no rhyme or reason to the traps and monsters you encounter, it’s all random.

The book then takes that novel and tries to craft a story around it.  If you plan on picking it up, the first part of the book will try your patience as nothing makes sense.  You get some exposition on the Blood War mythos of the D&D saga and introduced to a surly Ranger referred to as “The Justicar.”  The “The” portion of the title is part of the proper name, and numerous references to “The Justicar” get annoying.

The book doesn’t pick up until the scene where The Justicar and a Pixie that he realizes is a naive spy for an evil mage in the area.  He has the pelt of a hellhound that is still magically animated and able to eat things and shoot fire, an item he picked up after murdering a Paladin that tortured the hellhound.  This means for you D&D fans that the Ranger/Justicar is a Chaotic Good.  The pixie is a Chaotic Neutral who starts to become Chaotic Good as she hangs around the Justicar.

The best scenes are when she realizes that because of his strict adherence to his ideology, she has to manipulate him by presenting anything she does as being a chaotically good thing to do like stealing.  The worst scenes are some attempts at humor that go nowhere, and the first section of the novel that exposits on the blood war goes nowhere, it’s just filler.  The book spends a lot of time trying to get you to the White Plume Mountain.

There’s also numerous scenes that play D&D tropes straight.  I.e. the pixie lists her magic spells the same way players do when you ask them what they can do, she complains about not being able to cast a spell because they haven’t rested, they have to examine each door carefully for spikes and traps that appear out of nowhere, etc.  Playing these scenes straight shows that translating D&D into a novel in the most literal sense doesn’t work well.  Some other scenes are described for amusement, nonsensical ecological conditions in the mountain, enslavement of intelligent guards, etc.

Tl;dr:  Popcorn rental.  It’s a fun enough book if you’re looking for mindless entertainment, if you pick it up for any other reason, you will be disappointed.

Now the audiobook:

  1. Modulation.  Switching between lines and characters he maintains a fairly consistent level of volume, which has to be difficult going between a high voiced pixie and a gravelly voiced hellhound.
  2. Intonation and Inflection.  When he speaks as the hellhound, he slows down his speech a bit so that the words can be understood.  I never had a hard time understand who was saying what, and the voices are all distinctive from each other.
  3. Voice Profile.  The voices match what the character descriptions say that they should sound like.  Additionally, depending on who the narrator is, (that is, the voice of the person who we are currently viewing scenes from), he shifts his voice speed and tone around.  This is a skill many performers don’t use.  If a scene is tense, the narrator should be tense.  If a scene is action-filled, there should be action in the voice.  Many voice actors read in the same narrative tone, like it’s a BBC documentary.  This makes the performance boring.

    I’d encourage more voice actors to think of the narrator in the novel the same way we think of background music in movies or television.  The background music should match the scene and setting.

  4. Voice Range.  There are a decent number of different voice ranges used for men and women.
  5. Voice Effects.  None used.
  6. Iconicism.  Outside from maybe the hellhound pelt, I don’t think any of these voices reached an iconic level.  Bernard Clark could be replaced in another reading without anyone caring too much, so long as they were at least as good as he.

 

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