Not so far back, I wrote a fairly scathing critique of the Neverwinter entry in the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
I stand by that.
But I also think it fair to note that on the whole, D&D’s creators have been engaged in a long process to make the Forgotten Realms accessible again, to make it inviting to new players and to resonate with its established fan base.
No single product or event has brought D&D to this point. Rather it has been a concerted effort to remove barriers of entry from the longstanding campaign setting.
The Road Back
- “Sundering” story conference. This meeting, held sometime after WotC announced there would be a fifth edition of the rules, between signature Realms authors and the WotC story team produced the Sundering series of books and provided a roadmap to “fix Ed’s Realms” as author R.A. Salvatore has been quoted as saying many times. In a story that sounds a bit apocryphal, Salvatore relates that he and Ed Greenwood had started brainstorming a Realms restoration effort as far back as 2006. Regardless, the result would be the “Sundering” series of novels and D&D Next adventures that clearly had those two authors’ handprint on them. Less significant than the events in the novels themselves — I’ve read them and I’m still not certain what exactly “the Sundering” is — was the announcement itself, a signal to fans and all potential players that WotC was making the setting central to the new edition. And the popularity of Erin Evans’ novel series, especially with younger readers, has done much to make tieflings and dragonborn protagonists find acceptance with even the Realms’ old guard.
- The 2013 Acquisitions Inc., public play event with Chris Perkins as DM was shifted to be set in the Realms. These PAX events are not broadly followed, but it was significant. Here was a DM demonstrating that you could run off the cuff, ofttimes even goofy stuff, in the Realms. The clear message: The Realms was not to be venerated, it was to be played in.
- Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms. I absolutely adore this book. It’s got Greenwood’s hand-drawn maps of the Realms, some of his typewritten entries he used to send to co-creator Jeff Grubb, and loads of information on what it is like for player characters to “live” in the Realms. It’s not about rulers and nations or geography. And it’s only about the Realms pantheon insofar as it relates to the perspective of the worshippers. It talks about the Art and its role in society, laws and customs, and cuisine. So far as I can tell, it has zero game mechanics in it. Lacking only a map of the Sword Coast — which you can find with an Internet search — this book makes the Realms relatable in so many ways that I can’t count.
- Mike Schley’s hand drawn maps of Ten Towns and Baldur’s Gate (and the board game Lords of Waterdeep). These illustrations served as the DM’s screens for Legacy of the Crystal Shard and Murder in Baldur’s Gate adventures for D&D Next, the bridge between editions. The maps were a clear departure from the digital style of the previous edition. They looked and felt like the kinds of hand-drawn maps their characters might use.
- Making the back catalog available on drivethrurpg. You know those Realms products of yesteryear, the ones the old players reference and the young players can’t get their hands on? They can now be accessed. I think the barrier that was Realms canon — was mostly erased when players and GMs had access to the out of print materials. Instead of this being some impenetrable wall of forgotten knowledge or lore, a table of players could decide for itself whether old info on the Realms was relevant, or not.
- A “sketchy” view of the “new” Realms. Even the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, a mediocre product at best, helps in this regard as its voice is that of a series of “unreliable” narrators describing their travels. So far, there really hasn’t been a definitive Realms guide for 5E. Detailed locations, such as Greenest or Red Larch, have been adventure-specific. The Realms is what you make of it; it’s yours to mold, bend and shape.
A definitive fix?
I’m hearing repeated calls for a definitive guide to the Realms. I’m not certain that’s needed yet. I think the current path, providing material as needed for published adventures and selling the older material digitally, provides an abundance of material. If anything, providing access to the out-of-print products opens the door to discovery, lets a new generation of players experience the Realms anew, and upon a platform they appreciate.
What I think this article is trying to say, is that Wizards of the Coast has earned a tip of the hat.
And I don’t think it is so much that what has been offered is the “old” Realms or a “restored” Realms, but that it is “your” Realms. It is your playground again.