August 13, 2008

Forgetting the Realms? Part 2

This is the series where I think back and talk about the things that I loved and didn't love so much about the Forgotten Realms as well as what do I think about the new upcoming edition. It is meant to be a personal reflection on whether I should or should not buy the 4th rendition of the campaign setting which will be available at GenCon.

I've started off with what I loved about the Realms but it doesn't mean that I'm a realmslore-munching fanboy (although it's the first thing that made me fell in love with the Realms). But I would like to describe my relationship with the Realms as bittersweet.

Now that the sweet part is already mentioned, it's time to carry some troll clubs and move on to the bitter bits.

1. The Cosmological Mumbo-Jumbo

While I fully admit that the vibrant range of regions each with its own distinct geography, history, culture, people and adventuring opportunities is what really attracted me to the Realms, the whole cosmology and the amount of deities that are found in the setting is a divine turn-off for me.

Although it probably makes sense that with a setting as diverse as the Realms, it probably should have an equally diverse range of gods as well. However, that doesn't mean that every rock, tree and bird deserves to have a dedicated god watching over them.

There are 8 pantheons.
57 deities in the Faerunian pantheon.
10 gods from the Mulhorandi pantheon.
6 from the Drow Pantheon.
14 from the Dwarven pantheon.
12 from the Elven pantheon.
8 from the Gnome Pantheon.
6 from the Halfling Pantheon.
And 6 from the Orc Pantheon.

Which all adds up to a total of 119 deities!

I was inclined to the thought that gods were about quality over quantitiy.

The 3E & 4E PHBs only needed 19 gods! (including racial and evil ones) That's 100 too many on the job.

Come on, you wouldn't need that many if you tried a little harder instead of delegating godhood and divinities to someone else so they can do the job for you.

Oh wait, I forgot to mention Mystra and her pocketful of epic-leveled monstrosities (Elminster, I choose you!).

Many of the Realms gods were pretty redundant because they constantly overlapped each other in certain portfolios anyway. You don't need 2 gods for magic (Mystra, Corellon Larethian), 4 gods for Death (Kelemvor, Osiris, Segojan Earthcaller, Yurtrus) and 6 gods for War (Tempus, Anhur, Clangeddin Silverbeard, Corellon Larethian, Arvoreen, Ilneval).

I completely lost interest in the godly affairs of the Realms but they just don't like to stay in their demiplane and listen to the daily prayers and worships or accept the sacrifices they are given. Instead they go running around making things happen among themselves that have rather huge impacts on the setting itself.

During the Silence of Lolth, I made all female drows retire from my campaign because I don't need a helpless priestess who can't get her spells. That doesn't make them frightening villains anymore. Then it ended up taking along Selvetram and Vhaerun with her. No more drows period.

When Obould was being 'blessed' by Gruumsh in the Lone Drow, we were kept waiting to know whether he was the first orc to be Chosen and argued amongst ourselves for a pretty long time (but we don't have to worry about that now, don't we?)

What's the point of instigating these problems that just meant extra work for the DM who has to think up of a workaround and provide an explanation for the players?

Why doesn't Wizards give us an answer? I was just as baffled as my players when these events started occuring.

What's wrong with the Great Wheel? Why turn it into a Tree? It just made planar travel so much more complicated and inconvenient.

2.Novels are canon

Yes, believe it or not, novels are accepted as canon which means what happens in the novels written in the Realms, happens in the campaign setting as well. This is the most frustrating aspect of the Realms for me because it has created many trouble, less than saving them

My first stance about novels set in the Realms was the school that said, 'If you don't like it, you don't add it into YOUR Realms,'. It worked pretty well for awhile until I realized that the sourcebooks started echoing what the novels said.

It would be pointless to defy the sourcebooks at that point. If you didn't buy them for more information or realmslore to know more about a particular region then why bother to play in the Realms in the first place?

So I started to think that considering the small amount of sourcebooks that Wizards' put out every year about the Realms, the novels were actually the real sourcebooks that get published in larger numbers within shorter time periods.

So not only did I had to invest in sourcebooks for updated crunch, I needed to build a collection of novels for updated fluff as well.

While reading the novels were sometimes fun if written by a good author, it was a more painstaking process of extracting information about the favorite color of Alustriel.

Also reading fantasy novels is normally an inspirational resource for DMs who are looking for ideas for adventures or even campaigns. It's the reverse when you are reading Realms novels though.

The first campaign that I was encouraged to run in the Realms when I first cracked open the FRCS was to have my players fight against the returning Shades. Exploring the alien and mysterious intentions of the Shadovars after they've been altered for centuries in the Shadow Plane made a pretty good premise for a campaign.

Then, you had the Return of the Archwizard trilogy which picks up on that premise and turns into a cannonical trilogy. I let Wizards' scrap my whole campaign plan.

Then I moved on to the Silver Marches.

Check my FRCS. Neat, there's an Orc King who is coming back with a horde, attacking a confederation of Humans, Elves and Dwarves. Sweet! What a big classical war campaign this would be. This is going to be more epic than Lord of the Rings with more magic involved! Can't wait to pit my players with a real bad-ass Orc King! This is going to be a blast!

Ok...moving on. Maybe I'll try the Dalelands. According to the FRCS, there's an incursion of drow coming to the surface. Some are just trying to live peacefully while some are trying to know more about the secrets of the mythal at Myth Drannor and use it against the Dalelands. The elves are making a return from their Retreat and the Zhentarim are a constant threat looming on the north. Excellent! Sounds like a kitchen sink-type campaign waiting to be run here and I'll make my heroes try to find a way and revive that ancient city back to its former glory.

Oh, I'll get to use the 2E books I read about Myth Drannor and Cormanthyr. What's this? Oo, A prophecy. Nice, nice. This is really shaping up to be a roller coaster ride of a campaign that really potrays the ancientness of the Realms.

It's sad really, I would have really loved the novels, all the ones I read were great, but as I finish reading each one, I also bear a grudge against them.

That's it for part 2, so it's time to share your own pet peeves that you have about the Realms.


Anonymous said...

Heh. So, I suppose I can empathize with you on the realms fluff. Largely how i handled it was I took the setting as written when I started running and, that was where my canon broke from theirs. I picked up source books (not the novels, well some I'm sure but not dedicatedly at all) and stole things I thought were interesting but I didn't really listen to their story line. My campaign actually touched on both the returning shadows and the orc king, and you know, it really didn't matter to me if cannon deviated from my game. It's bound to eventually.

But my biggest pet peeve with the setting was that there was so much fluff I couldn't get msot (I had one FR fandude) of them read ANY of it and have any clue about things beyond what I spoon fed them, so it made some of my attempts at hooks fall flat.

Jonathan said...

I have used the Realms for about 4 or 5 campaigns. All of them were set in the less developed areas of the Realms: Shining South, The Great Dale, Luiren, Chondalwood. The "fluff" (which i agree is overwhelming and annoying to keep track off) was always used in the context of character background and development. For instance, I ran a campaign in the Shining South - but two of the player where elfphiles and needed to be from , you guessed it, mythdrannor. Ugh... OK, that's fine...

Anyway, i think that FRCS is overdeveloped because, well... its unique. There's no other fantasy campaign setting that has had so much written about it. I might even [cough] suggest that there is more "material" for FRCS than there is for Middleearth at this point. (BLASPHEMY!)

Save your money. Get the PDFs when they are released, or do what I'm doing and run a 4E game in 3E FRCS. It works well, you just have to be a little creative in how you put together your pesky Druids from the forest of lethyr.

Questing GM said...

Greetings, anonynos!
I certainly know how it feels when your players are not impressed or get the significance of catching a hook dipped in the realmslore pool!

I've been inclined to steal adventure ideas from the 'Realms of' anthalogies except for the case of 'Realms of the Dragons' which got its canon certificate in the Dragons of Faerun sourcebook.

While I haven't met with a situation where my campaign was running halfway when suddenly the canon novels blow straight through my plot leaving a huge plot hole, most of my cases were before they even started.

However, if i do. I'm probably with you and just going to run with it, ignoring what canon says, unless it drastically differs in terms of plot or consistency feel.

If I was playing with a group of FR-versed players, I'll bring this up for discussion.

Hey Jonathan, good to have you back here again!

I have thought of going to less greener pastures but the regions that I initially planned were the ones that I really wanted to run.

It's probably an option to save on the headache but I don't feel that it's right for designers/authors to have a say on what's going on and ignore the main customer base; THAT'S US, THE PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY PLAY IN THE REALMS (not read the novels) AND USE EVERY MATERIAL THAT WE PAY TO GET OUR HANDS ON!

Why should author/designer/player fight over ownership of the Realms when removing these decision controls would really help to develop and evolve the whole setting?

Anonymous said...

Greetings indeed!

I'm not sure what solution I'd really like best to be honest. I was kind of think what would be nice is if they bascially took all the FR books and made them, you know year 0. And then once a year (or somethings else reasonable) released a state of the realm book that took all that years canon fluff and put it in a game book format summary. Default setting year 0. Year 0+1 has seen these changes (and maybe say what series they were from or something) etc.

Jonathan said...

OH.. bag FRCS, that's a great idea for ANY campaign setting! Imagine some new setting where the publisher says: "OK, every 6 - 12 months we will be releasing a supplement updating the campaign setting's time line." they could release a slim, maybe PDF online, version that just includes the updates; and/or a comprehensive release that includes everything from day 1. In this age of electronic self publishing; it seems like a reasonable idea.

Questing GM said...

That's a great idea, anonynos!

But remember, we have seen something like that sort of before with the FRCS and the Player's Guide to Faerun.

It had updated the Realms with the 'latest' events at the back.


While I don't think it would be something beneficial or profitable for WoTC to do, I'm sure the format you suggest is something perfect for fans and the community to do.

This is really a worthy pet project to look into!