August 11, 2008

Forgetting the Realms? Part 1

If you had known about the recent controversial changes that is installed for us in this edition of the Forgotten Realms from the previous (3rd) edition, you are either a longtime fan who feels disgusted by them or a follower of the changes who is getting excited.

For the latter, Critical-Hits is quite keen on buying this book and many of the comments that follow his post all seem to agree on one thing; FR was too overwhelming as a setting that is filled with too many uber NPCs who were stealing the limelight from the PCs. With the upcoming 4th edition version of the Realms, the WoTC designers has made it their mission to remove these barriers of entry to allow a free flow of new players by letting them into the 'brand new' Realms and share the fun.

As for the former, if you've been following this thread over at ENWorld, you would see how other gamers see it from the other side of the spectrum. There have been many displeasures and dissapointment going around about the changes and how WoTC had implemented them.

I'm one of them. Having run several FR campaigns occasionally over the course of years since the 3.0 period, it was a tremendous shock to read the last few pages of the Grand History of the Realms during the end of the 3.5 era. I was distraugh with fear of the changes that came so sudden which almost made my love for the setting was all but for naught.

It was just not the right way to end it. The status quo was being broken so unimaginably that it destroyed everything I've ever held dear for a campaign setting (despite my short years of playing with it), just like that, in just a few short sentences. There were so many things happening and there was too little explanations about why these are happening or why they were neccesary.

It had offended something inside of me as a supporter of the setting who had accepted every RSE novels as canon, even though I didn't buy ALL of them, which was not respected in turn by not giving me, at least, a more appropriate warning sign.

If this is what it has done to someone who has only been playing in the setting for only several years, imagine what it would do to grognards who have been playing since the grey box?

With the coming of the new edition Realms in just a few days, I'm quite torn between to buy or not to buy.

More importantly, do I still want to play in the Forgotten Realms anymore? Is it time to put my attachments down and put it to rest as a good old memory? Is it time to really forget about the Forgotten Realms?

I'll be recollecting some of the things that I really liked and don't liked about the previous editions of the Forgotten Realms as well as the new edition, that would be the running topic of this blog's first series. This would mostly be a personal reflection on whether or not I will subscribe to the new design ideology of the new 4E Realms or enough is enough for this disgrunted fan of his beloved setting.

So for starters (and this post), here's what I liked about the Forgotten Realms.


I'm a sucker for fluff. So you can bet that when I first read about the Forgotten Realms and dabbled a bit into the realmslore, it was like having a fluff-gasm.

Being 12 when I was first exposed to the Realms, I've never found a fantasy setting that is so enrich and detailed with history, characters, landscape, culture, color, and vivid descriptions as the Realms. There were real superheroes (Elminster, Khelben, the Seven Sisters, Harpers) that worked in mysterious ways and real Big Bad Evil Guys (Zhentarim, Cult of the Dragon, Church of Cyric, Red Wizards, the Drow, The Twisted Rune) that worked in more mysterious ways.

There were so many additional flavors in the setting that it would take a fantasy connoisseur to sample and appreciate every one of them. Every piece fitted so well together that it created a living, breathing, vibrant yet coherent world.

Every now and then when you think you know it all, you'll be surprised when you dig up something new that you hadn't known before about the realms. That discovery in itself is a very satisfying experience even without actually playing in the setting.

Ed Greenwood's imagination was truly beyond my own and I admire his dedication and love for the Realms by the amount of realmslore he has written along with creative and respected authors (Sean K. Reynolds, Steven Schend). Their writings is what I cherish most about the Realms. The Volo's Guide To series is still my most favorite books from the setting and I still flip them through every now and then to see the Realms come alive.

As for the gaming table, I immediately pounched on the FRCS when it came out for the 3rd edition. My initially thought of getting it was because I was running out of time to do my own homebrew (and because there was a real AWESOME Canadian doing his). My plan was to buy a well developed setting so that I could plug my players into them without spending too much time on the fluff and concentrate more time on actually running the crunchy adventures. The Realms had met my expectations and 'beyond' them.

This is the first reason why I loved the Realms. I fell in love with everything about it as a setting that was waiting to be explored in every wonderful corner of Faerun; the countryside of the Dalelands, the unforgiving wilderness of The North, the endless roaming along the Sword Coast, the hostile jungles of Chult, the deep dark caverns of the Underdark, the sands of the Old Empires, the open plains of the Shaar and the spirtual homeland of Rasheman.

The Realms was ancient and diverse, yet it was bubbling with new excitement and had a piece for everyone.

2. The Endless Possibilites

This was something that I felt the 3rd edition FRCS did right. After introducing all the spectacle of the Realms to a new fan like me, the FRCS immediately offered plot hooks to draw the new players into it all. Afterall, for a published setting, it was important to involve the players.

As much as the Realms had color, there were just as much adventuring opportunities! The setting is populated with ancient, forgotten, lost and mysterious ruins that almost all of them carry a bit of realmslore with them. From all the rich history and background, it added a whole lot more depth to every dungeon crawl. It's never just your average dungeon crawl in the Realms!

Exploring through the ruins of an ancient city is different when you are exploring through the ruins of Myth Drannor while uncovering the secrets of its mythal. At the same time, defending it from the Drow and beware of the hidden Cult of the Dragon and the phaerimms underneath the city.

Or you could just walk into Undermountain and it was already a campaign all by itself!

There were lost treasures and artifacts that is literally littered to be found and even finding a piece of ancient knowledge was a great reward in itself.

The setting wasn't all about your everyday dungeon crawls either. With the plethora of organizations in the Realms, each with their own agendas, there were many opportunities to run intrigue based campaign as well. It would be interesting to run a Harper campaign during the schism with the Moonstars or fighting against a particular known evil. Or where the players are agents of the Black Network could make a good evil power struggle campaign. Or to go even further, playing an all elf campaign were every PC is a member of the Eldreth Veluuthra.

The Realms was already a well established setting, yet it beckons to you with more. It is a sandbox for players to try all sorts of campaigns, feel and playstlyes.

3. There's Always More
When I jump on the FR bandwagon during 3.0, I was already behind in terms of realmslore that came before during the 2nd edition. Just go back to the Classic Downloads of the previous edition and you'll see there is already a boatload of fluff that addresses various subjects and regions of the Realms. Trust me when I say that all these was just the tip of the iceberg.

Even so, the Realms continued to expand during the 3.x days. New updates would be bought in to replace old fluff as new sourcebooks were released.

There was great online support for the setting as well. The WoTC site would regularly be updated with new and interesting realmslore and there was a whole slew of articles about magic books, perilious gateways and portals, personalities, dragons, bard tales, news from Waterdeep and adventure locales.

I particularly remembered enjoy reading Rand's Travelogue as each update expanded something more about a region in the FRCS.

You couldn't get enough from the setting as it keeps getting larger than life.

Oh, did I mention that the Realms even had its own Monster Compendium? (take that, Eberron!)

Well, that's all for now until the next post in the series. If there any great things that you love about the Realms, be sure to share them in my comments.


Jonathan said...

Personally, I'm on the fence as to buy the thing. More than likely I'll wait for it to be gifted as my campaign will not be "updating" to the 4E setting. Instead, I'm running 3E FRCS using 4E rules - it takes a lot of converting of material, but it is not as much work as I would have thought.

The new setting seems like it is going to be a totally new campaign world, only that all the place names and people will have FRCS labels tacked on them. Why call it FRCS at all? BRANDING. NAME RECOGNITION. And.. for some reason a new version of D&D means a new version of FRCS too. Once again - WotC = PROFFITZZ!

thanks for the meaty blog post. It went well with my 5am coffee. I've added you to my blog roll too over at thecoremechanic.

Geek Gazette said...

I will be buying it. I've gotten on board with the everything has changed mindset, for now at least. So while I was not a Realms fan before, I am looking forward to the new CS.

Questing GM said...

Thanks Jonathan! It's an honor to be added in your blogroll. I do agree that WoTC might be trying to capitalise on FR's name. So this is where I think, as a long time fan, would draw the line.

Would the new Realms still be recognisable as the Realms they had known, throughout these years after all the books, novels, supplements and PC games?

I'm still debating with myself as the series goes on (in fact, i'm writting part 2 right now and it's harder than i thought it would be for my first series, oh well.)

Geek Gazette, I wish you well on trying out this new setting. It's been great running and reading about the Realms all these years but wait till you see how the designers can kill some many things about the setting, almost on a whim.

I hope I'm not scaring you or anything so welcome to the blog!

Anonymous said...

So, I've honestly not followed it much so I don't have a strong opinion... however.

I will say i' ma bit miffed at how they are adding dragonborn to the setting. not that they are, there are plenty of ways I can see adding them in that would make sense... but they whole new interdimensional land thing... bah...

That being said, as a popular (and thus heavily supported) evolving setting, I don't think there is any way you can expect to /not/ have content drift. For a new player, a brand new book starting at point 0 is a great thing. For old timers, it's not so good... but really, the new book doesn't make your old books crumble to dust just by existing so I don't think that' a big deal. :P

Oh, and Jonathan... "WotC = PROFFITZZ!" snark aside, well.. duh. They are a company, they need to make money... they do that by publishing new books. I don't fault them for their business model (even if I don't necessarily like what hey put out, I don't begrudge them thier ability to put it out.)

Jonathan said...

@ anonynos : Oh, please don't get me wrong. Of course they are in it for the money. And I do not begrudge them for that as well. Heck, i even have Hasbro stock. The snark was just that it seems they are _really_ milking it. They tried to break into the RPG software market in 1999 with eTools, then again in 2002 with MasterTools. it wasn't until 2003 until they finally threw in the towel. Every project they have touched has been well meaning, but poorly executed. They should simply change the GSL to allow software companies to develop under a royalty based license or something. WotC needs to stick to BOOKS, CARDS, GAMES and Zines. they are not software developers. Heck... look at the DDI Compendium... the interface alone screams amateurs. If they are going to produce software, it needs to be 1) slick as hell, like the new Core books are; 2) fun to use, and 3) built from the ground up based on what the fans want. I don't ever remember thousands of gamers in the forums or the blogs complaining that there was no way to play D&D online. (OK, there's a niche market for it, sure... but the key word is niche.)

i mean.. they could at least embrace web 2.0 and the mobile web and maybe make the Compendium and DDI accessible by mobile web devices. Now, THAT would be cool - the PHB, DMG, MM, and your character sheet all on your iPhone. No Pen. No Paper. Wait... that's the problem. See? WotC is missing the point: its a pen and paper role playing game.

Sorry for the flood - i just think WotC needs to stick to publishing. DDI just makes me mad. =D

group hug?

Anonymous said...

*cough* Yeah... sorry about that, I'm not sure when I became a WOTC apologist exactly. ;) There's been so much bagging on them that I knee-jerk roll my eyes and want to comment I guess.

I do agree they've made a number of missteps that should have been easily avoided... DDI being a big one.

Questing GM said...

Greetings Anonymous!

I'll still surprised to see someone still commenting on this post, but thanks for your thoughts and I welcome you to the blog!

I, myself, am not so badly miffed about having the dragonborns in. I was kinda expecting the ways WoTC would try and 'implement' them into the Realms when 4E announced them, so at least I was mentally prepared for that. Gating in is quite the Realms fashion (see the Mulan and the Orcgate Wars).

To keep this discussion going, I would just add that I don't see what's wrong of inviting new players into the already steep sea of realmslore. Sure, it did started off as daunting (which I STILL feel in areas which I'm not familiar) but with a warm nudge and pointing in the right directions, it's best to let the players explore it on their own and they enjoyed it along the way.

What FR needs is not a book that resets the game for everyone but a book on how to introduce the Realms properly.

The Grand History of the Realm was a start, and I cetainly don't see anything wrong if there was a FR for Dummies, or a DM's Guide to the Forgotten Realms.

In fact, the more I think about this, the more I think the setting deserves it more!

While I do agree that my old books are not completely obselete with the new 4E FRCG, it has affected the reusalbility level lower than I would like to have for my old books (maybe only about 10%?). More on that later on a future post I guess.

Woah, easy there Jonathan!
I'm surprised that you even have Hasbro stocks! Well at least part of that WoTC = PROFFITZZ! is going back to you, heheheh!

Thanks guys, again, for keeping this post alive!