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Reviews of 'Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals'

Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals

by Nancy Varian Berberick, Paul B. Thompson, Steven 'Stan!' Brown
Bertrem's Guides, Volume 1

Reviews of 'Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals'

Here are the visitor reviews we have of Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals. For more information about this title, please visit the item detail page.

Reviewer: Cassandra Jacobs

Rating: Stars

I'm not sure what I was expecting, considering the cover says "Everyday life in Krynn of the Fifth Age". Considering my everyday life is pretty boring, why did I assume everyday life in Krynn would be exciting? The writing *was* excellent, and the descriptions were superb, but the general overall gist of the book? It was difficult to pick up and even more difficult to finish. Most Dragonlance paperbacks take me about a week at the most. This book took over two weeks.

Maybe this book would be good if you were running a game in one of these areas, or truly interested in politics or some such. For general sit down and read for entertainment? Definitely not it. I'm not sure if I want to pick up the sequel to it, only because I hate taking that long to read a book, and I'm not sure what I'll get from the book overall.

Review made August 31st, 2001.

Reviewer: Morten Brattbakk

Rating: Stars

Bertrem's Guide to the Age of Mortals: Everyday Life in Krynn of the Fifth Age is the full title of this book. The title pretty much describes what it is: A book that details more or less mundane aspects concerning the inhabitants of Krynn in the years following the Second Cataclysm. I applauded the release of such a book, because descriptions of people and realms with cultural flavor is something that Dragonlance needs more of. This book does not have game stats, and like many Dragonlance sourcebooks the last few years (The Bestiary, Palanthas, and The Odyssey of Gilthanas), it seems to attempt to appeal to both gamers and readers. Considering the rather "balance-the-two" approach of these works (all fell between two stools), I was curious about whether this volume would succeed. Modern Dragonlance sourcebooks are noted for their many inconsistencies towards the original Dragonlance, and I wondered to what extent this book managed to stay true to Dragonlance while still introducing new things to it.

I love the cover, it has a painting which shows landscape, a town, a temple and castle in addition to a green dragon. In most Dragonlance paintings there hasn't been much landscape or other such features, but now finally we get visualizations of the world, not only its characters. The painting is obscured by much text though. On the inside there is a map, the same map that was in Dragons of a Fallen Sun, but it is insufficient for this book. There should be a map of the entire continent of Ansalon as it is in the Fifth Age instead of just a portion of the continent.

The book is written as if existing in-world. This has been popular in the latest years, and has been done with mixed success before. The Bestiary and Palanthas both suffer from the author (Stan) trying so hard to give life to the narrators voice that he neglects the hard info. None of the 3 writers have gone that far here, though, although Stan still attempts to give personality to his narrating voice, the content is most important here. Nancy Varian Berberick has an almost poetic and flowery style when describing food, clothing and trade, while Paul B. Thompson's no-nonsense style is clearly devoted to facts and the occasional anecdote.

Nancy starts off with a essay on general food of Ansalon, followed by one by Stan on more regional versions of food, before Nancy tell us something about clothing on various places on Ansalon. This is quite interesting, much of it is common sense, but it does provide a sort of atmosphere to the various races and cultures of Ansalon. I couldn't find anything to nitpick here.

Paul B. Thompson has written about education, arms and armor and politics, describing many realms/cultures in Ansalon with firm roots in history. These chapters are for the most part good, and are very good as source material for both gamers, authors and other interested fans, but I have a lot to nitpick about. Obviously, there is a great amount of material to research in order to get a correct essay on say, the basic politics of all countries, and Paul didn't quite pull it off.

Let's start with education. Among the elves of Silvanesti, young boys, usually commoners, are chosen as apprentices to scribes. This does not fit with the strict caste society of elves, and The Sylvan Veil confirms this, where Lorekeeping is held strictly within the House Cleric. Qualinesti schools being open to all races doesn't exactly rhyme with the image of the Qualinesti elves as given in Dragons of Autumn Twilight (and certainly not Second Generation). Children going to schools three times a day in Solamnia doesn't give the impression of the feudal, if good-hearted, agrarian society that Solamnia was and is. That a universal school system existed after the Cataclysm is particularly ridiculous, the population had other things to worry about, such as surviving. The argument that "no one blamed the scholars" for the universal school system surviving in Solamnia isn't very good, when paragraphs before it explains how the Knights of Solamnia was the glue that tied the social and political structure, schools included, of the country together.

I also believe that the various churches, mostly before the Cataclysm but also to a more limited extent during the years following the War of the Lance, had a hand in education. The monasteries of Majere and the church of Gilean would be central I think, and the Library would also be a center of learning, even if it isn't all that accessible. But the Orders were, before the Second Cataclysm, certainly *the* number one educator in Ansalon, and should definately have been mentioned.

The arms and armor chapter is better and more thought through, with less mistakes, even though it talks about the early dragon wars as something entirely un-Krynnish and has a few obvious wrong references such as Theros living at the time of Huma and Laurana and Sturm battling Dark Knights at the Battle of the High Clerist's Tower. Overall it provides a believable history on the development of weapons, and a good guide to what weapons are favored among the various races today.

The chapter on politics is OK, but lots of nitpicking here as well. In the coverage of Qualinesti, the Senate is not mentioned, even though its importance is obvious to anyone who's read Second Generation and The Puppet King. Description of the rule of current-day Blöde isn't complete without the titans, and descriptions of political rule on Mithas includes an oligarchy but mentions no Emperor, the long-lived Chot Es-Kalin. The kender are less anarchical than I would believe them to be. Otherwise, this chapter is quite good, with interesting politics. I particularly liked the section on Estwilde, giving us a glimpse how this obscure region works.

Next Nancy offers us a good treatise on trade and commerce, mostly a coverage on trade routes on Ansalon. Very good as an overview. It does mention King's Road as a paved road, but I don't think it is useful. It is elevated, and clearly broke after the Cataclysm (the first one) and must be useless. For a picture of it, look at the painting between pages 672 and 673 in Annotated Chronicles, and it is broken there. Otherwise, a good chapter.

Next Stan briefs us on celebrations and festivals, some celebrated over most of Ansalon, some more regional and/or racial. This is good, with a solid foundation in earlier material, but updating it to the Fifth Age and not copying it, but still getting the essential info. The only ceremony I cannot imagine exist is "Khara's Shame", in which each year a dwarf of Thorbardin shaves off his beard in memory of Kharas doing the same during the Dwarfgate Wars. Otherwise, good chapter.

The book ends with a section on Popular Games, and is a treatise on children games, tournaments, Khas, card games and the like. A presentation of the Talis deck, the cards that are used on Krynn and with which they play many games, including Dragon Wars and, presumably, Knight's Quest, would be in order.

All in all, this is an interesting book with lots of little details. Still, I felt that it had a bit too many inconsistencies, particularly in the sections of Paul B. Thompson, and often it wasn't thorough enough. Few of the peoples and cultures got a comprehensive description. Personally, I think that the problems could have been fixed (or at least there would've been improvements) by organizing the book differently. It was organized thematically, but organizing it by country and race would, in my opinion, have been better. The information could have been more thorough, the author's research would have been much easier (ie. if you write about the Thorbardin dwarves, you shouldn't have trouble finding and reading all the info you need, but if you write about the politics of all nations on Ansalon, you do), and for gamers and authors who need information it would have been much better for the information to be in one place. If I am to prepare a game featuring the Neidar dwarves and want to find out all about them in this book, I am in for some serious detective work.

Even though the book should have been organized differently, it is a good and interesting source of information on Ansalon. Despite some inconsistencies it has, overall, managed to capture the flair of Dragonlance and often has a good eye towards details. It is essential for Dragonlance authors and also for DMs who want to spice up their descriptions and even maybe get some ideas. No author should ignore this book (but check it against other sources, of course).

Review made Monday November 20th, 2000 on the newsgroup.

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