Elaine Cunningham’s “The Great Hunt” appeared in the April 1998 issue of Dragon, which ran one fantasy story in each issue of widely varying quality. The best of them were original tales, but many of them were clearly fictionalizations of the author’s role playing game. “The Great Hunt” falls between these two extremes, but it is clearly a story based on Dungeons and Dragons with its cast of Orcs, Half-Orcs, Elves, and humans. Set in Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms, the tight connection to source material is to be expected.
The story focuses on Drom, Grimlish, and Badger, an Half-Orc, Orc, and human, respectively. They have been part of a raiding party known as the Talons of Malar. In addition to their devotion to the god, Drom and Grimlish maintained an affinity for wolves, an older form of their worship. The story begins the day after the Talons attacked an Elven camp. The party has now split into smaller groups to track the few survivors through the woods.
Cunningham splits the action between Drom’s excitement of his first major hunt and Arilyn, a wounded female Elf who is being helped to escape by her companion, Elaith. The recent attack and Arilyn’s injuries firmly make the two Elves the underdogs in the story as they use their wiles and forestcraft to try to escape from Drom, Grimlish, and Badger. Cunningham’s technique of splitting the story provides a degree of uncertainty to the story, since the reader is asked to empathize with both sides of the conflict and therefore either side could come out on top.
The balance between the two sides of the struggle is well presented and both the Elves and Orcs clearly have cultures which inform the decisions and actions they take in the story, even if Cunningham doesn’t explore them too deeply. This means that the Orcs’ actions are not merely undertaken because “Orcs are evil,” although there is a certain amount of motivation being “Orcs and Elves are enemies.” To make this more believable, Cunningham presents the Orcish view of Elves akin to the way they would view a non-sentient, but wily animal.
Overall, “The Great Hunt” is a relatively slight story, but it offers an interesting view of the struggle between the Elvish and Orcish races and provides insight into ways it can play out. There is very much the feel that the story is tied to the mechanics of the game and was written to offer players background and ideas for improving their own games.
The story was published the same month as Cunningham’s Forgotten Realms novel Evermeet: Island of Elves, which also dealt, in part, with the followers of Malar the Beastlord. Not having read the novel, it isn’t clear to me if this story is an excerpt (it isn’t designated as one), a cut scene, or simply a story that had the same inspiration.
Steven H Silver is a nineteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW, NESFA Press, and ZNB. His most recent anthology is Alternate Peace and his novel After Hastings was published in 2020. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 6 times. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7.