August 15, 2008

Forgetting the Realms? Part 3

This is the series where I reminisce about what I loved and hate about the old Realms and what are my thoughts on the new coming edition.

With the new edition of the Realms (now already on sale), my buying decision for it will be based on what I've heard about it and whether there will be more similarities with what I liked or it will contain stuff that I didn't like about the Realms.

To summarise the previous two entries, let's start with the good bits.

I loved the Realms, first and foremost, was because of the rich background that the setting came with. As someone who drowns himself with fluff, I was not one of those players who didn't enjoy reading through the tons of realmslore. In fact, I could actually spend more time reading about the Realms than actually running it and just have as much fun.

As a DM, despite there being so much already established and described in the realmslore, there is still alot of potential to create and write new adventures or campaigns in the Realms. This is mostly made possible by challenging the DM to expand on or change what has been written as the status quo which makes the campaign setting all the more sweeter.

I ended my favorite part about the Realms with that it doesn't stop there. The Realms continues to become more detailed and more alive as more and more new realmslore gets added for free on the WoTC website and on the new sourebooks.

For the second post, I went on to grumble about the things I really hated about the Realms and it mostly involves trying to actually run the Realms properly.

First on the firing line was the deities. It was too excessive to the point of redundancy and from my point of view, I really don't see why there should be so many of them. Never mind trying to keep track which god is worshipped for which portfolio, they were also annoying movers and shakers of the Realms that just interuppted the happenings of the mortal realm. Then I mention about the changes in the cosmology, trying to reinvent the wheel which just made things unnecessarily.

My biggest frustration with the Realms is that novels are canon. They were not only unavoidable, they were also an indirect source of material to be used. They actually expanded the setting more than the actual sourcebooks which made them compulsory on your book list of FR-related stuff.

Novels were also ways for designers and authors to claim ownership over the Realms from the players. Each time as I set out to run a campaign about a favorite region, the novels preceeds me and forces me to scrap out entire campaign ideas because they've been there, done that.

So for this post, I'll say what will be the criterias that would make me buy the new Realms and how what I've heard about it so far has either met them or went the opposite direction.

1. It has to be as recognisable as the Realms that came before it. More Realmslore!

With the new present Realms moving forward a hundred year into the future, alot of things have changed along the timeline. This is not a good sign. All we know what happend is the Spellplague with the death of Mystra and the failing of the Weave and the merging of Abeir-Toril which were mentioned in the Grand History of the Realms. WoTC does not seem inclined to explain what had happened in between that 100 years and they want us to pay our attention to the new Realms 100 years from now.

100 years is too much, in my opinion. It's almost as good as new and completely strange again. The Realms has had a tradition of a long history and leaving a gap between that 100 years after the most dramatic change to the setting just alienates me from the setting. What is there to cover up in those 100 years? I can't believe that WoTC has decided to just take away 100 years worth of realmslore so that they can squeeze in the changes of the 4E rules.

2. Streamline the deities and cosmology.

In The Grand History of the Realms, there's already signs that WoTC is leaning towards cutting down the number of gods for the benefit of the setting. Though I must say that the means are not entirely subtle and somewhat uncreative considering how detailed and imaginative the realmslore can get.

Still, it serves my purpose but I still get the feeling that they are killing the gods that shouldn't be killed. I thought the Triad were cool and while they have their overlaps, I still think they are pretty functional and it's not cool when you have them fighting between themselves over Tymora because of Sune (it's like a really bad soap opera!).

The ones that I felt needed the culling were actually from the racial pantheons and most of the Faerunian lesser gods. The cosmology gets changed (AGAIN) to connect the Realms with the 4E cosmology (Prime, Feywild, Shadowfell, Elemental Chaos, Far Realms and Astral Sea). I don't know if the designers gave a proper explanation on how the cosmology changed, but from how they changed the Great Wheel to the Great Tree, an answer is pretty unlikely. Now my only wish is they are going to explain where the gods are going to live (so I know they stay out of the mortal realms).

3. I can still use my old books in term of fluff-usefulness. Just update the crunch.

I guess, this is probably too much to ask seeing how different 4E is compared with 3E but at least I was hoping that the designer would think up of something to try and save as much of the 3E bits as they can. With the new magic system, I can understand why they needed the Spellplague, Mystra's death was the symbolic death of the Vancian system. But with the 100 years jump, WoTC's answer of retaining some of the old Forgotten Realms flavor is pretty clear.

4E Realms has been a victim of the 4E Core Rules Streamlining rays. The designers had basically went on a 'Seek and Destroy' mission, they remove every obstacle in the Realms so that the 4E Point of Light could slide into it perfectly like a matching jig-saw puzzle. While I do like the Point of Light approach to world design, I would have much prefer it if they did the Point of Light FR-style like using a grimer tone or mood in potraying the Realms rather than arbitrarily stamp on the setting with drastic changes in the storyline and workings of the setting.

I'm dissapointed with the WoTC designers. There could have been some other material that they overlooked that could be used to emphasise that FR has a Point of Light feel to it too, Like the Moonsea, the Underdark, the Western Heartlands, Westgate, Scardale. Was 100 years really the only option left?

4. No more canon novels!
Chris Perkins posted in his blog on 2007 that canon novels will continue in 4E.


However to be a little optimistic, if the authors stop writing RSEs or write plots that could change the course of the region (like wars, disasters involving mass murders etc.) and just stick to character driven novels, I could still live with that.

Hopefully the Living Forgotten Realms organised play will give players and fans a little more control on what happens in the Realms rather than just the novels.

Now, the question remains. Will I still buy the new Forgotten Realms?

It's not straightforward but my answer would be 'Oh well, what the heck, Yes.'

Sure, things have taken a turn for the worst than what I have expected but the WoTC designers had intended this edition of the Realms to start with a clean sheet. Maybe there is something really new (and hopefully shiny) installed for me in this new Realms and maybe it's time for a paradigm shift in approaching it.

While I'm not sure if this Realms is going to be as rich as previous editions of the Realms since everything that is supposed to be old is actually quite new in terms of realmslore. I'm guessing that some of the staple background realmslore will come in from the DDI as the months and years go along with this edition, which means if I'm not subscribing then I can forget about playing in the Realms.

Still, I'm willing to give it a try. Give myself a chance to try something new.

But in my mind, the old Realms that I had grew to love over the past years is dead and buried in the sands of time. Goodbye my olde Forgotten Realms, you won't be forgotten but surely missed.


Jonathan said...

heh... nice series. I just have one question: what about the druids? PHB2 is not out till next year, so ... how in the heck are they going to incorporate any of the druidic groups into the campaign setting? ....=|

Questing GM said...

Good point, Jonathan.

But what I've heard is that the Emerald Enclave is no more in the 4E Realms, I'm guessing that we won't be seeing druids in the main agenda of Realms events until next year.

If WoTC were a little crude, when the PHB 2 is out they could just say 'Oh, now that we officially have the druid, here's what happened to the Emerald Enclave in the past 100 years,'

Same goes for the bard too.