Review: Nightwatch

Caution: Spoilers

Our next review is a romp through a pretty obscure bit of Greyhawkiana; the novel Nightwatch by Robin Wayne Bailey. Published in 1990, this was a one-off novel whose author was best known for his contributions to the ever-awesome “Thieves’ World” series (which is a topic for a post unto itself).

The novel focuses on Garrett Starlen, a captain of the Night Watch of the city of Greyhawk, as he tries to unravel the mystery behind why all of the city’s most powerful experts in divination are all killed in the space of a single evening. Soon things start to escalate, with ominous black birds filling the skies and more dead bodies piling up. It’s very much a detective novel, with some nice plot twists, false leads, and the like. It ends up with an invasion of the city, which is fought off thanks in large part to Starlen’s tricking the various factions into turning out all their followers armed to the teeth at the right moment. The whole thing takes place within the City of Greyhawk, except for a jaunt to the Mistmarsh.

The secondary characters are very well defined, and the whole thing is well-written, well-plotted, and well-paced, just as I would expect of a veteran author. I found myself actively looking forward to the next chapter as I was reading.

The timing of the novel is problematic. It is said to be fifty years since the Circle of Eight was last heard from, but there are some odd incongruities. It’s implied, for instance, that mayor Neroff Gasgall has just died, which would make his time in office unbelievably long. Too, the Horned Society is a major force once again, but there are reasons to think that it now controls the Shield Lands.

While it’s plain that Bailey took a lot of time to research the setting, it’s also plain that his researches only went so far, as there are glaring factual errors that any editor should have caught. The names of the moons of Oerth are incorrect, for instance, and he continually mentions that Greyhawk’s nickname is “Necropolis”. There’s also something subtly… wrong… about his descriptions of the city that I find it very difficult to put my finger on. Orcs and dwarves are “magical races”? It almost feels more like Sanctuary than Greyhawk. Still, these are minor things in what is otherwise a pretty good book.

There isn’t much that can be used directly in an RPG campaign, owing to the future setting, but it could be mined for younger NPC versions of the characters, depending on when the campaign was set. The twelve swords known as the Pillars of Heaven could be a nice catalyst for a game, and the fact that the Hierarchs of the Horned Society will rise once more could provide fodder for plots as well.

All in all, a pretty nifty read, even if it is a future Greyhawk that’s a quarter-plane of reality removed from the one we know. I give it four wizards out of five.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

6 thoughts on “Review: Nightwatch

  1. I didn't even know this book existed. Thanks for the informative review!

    One question though, was this published by TSR/WotC? I ask because it doesn't seem to have any familiar logos on it.

  2. I saw this reviewed elsewhere on the interwebs a few years ago and promptly bought and read it. I had not heard of it – and its being a GH book – before that online review (wish I could remember where – grodog's site, maybe?).

    It was really good. Sure, the timing might be a little off, but it fits more in pre-2E Greyhawk than with the material produced since 1988.

    I really enjoyed it.

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