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 –Â I’ve read them and I’m still not certain what exactly “the Sundering” is –Â 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. Â
- 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.
What I really want for the Realms are side products that help paint the setting. Things like the Aurora’s Whole Realms Catalog, or from the Mystara setting Joshuan’s Almanac (Which I was disappointed with when it came out because it didn’t give the sort of book of stat blocks overview the previous editions had, but today I see more value in the in world in voice approach than the list of nations and their combat stats.)
I like the idea of the new realms being… unreliable for a while. If you like the old realms and know it, bring it into your games. If you don’t… well, the Sundering changed everything, don’t ya know?
It’s freeing, creatively. And it removes the “wall” of lore that sidelines many DMs because they fear they “won’t do it right.” That reminds me of Gnome Stew piece on Star Wars that addressed the same issue. Anyone here remember that GS blog post and have a link?
I think this ball got rolling here …
I’m an Eberron girl at heart, but I’ve always been fond of the Realms. Originally, I was a bit overwhelmed by how much information there was about the land and the history, but over the years some of my favorite characters have lived in the realms. I’m all for making them accessible for newer players and so far, I think they’ve done a pretty good job with that.
I want a realms sourcebook that takes the 40 most interesting bits of the FR and gives them the Pathfinder Beginner Box’s Treatment of Sandpoint.
Yeah, figuring out what the 40 most interesting bits of the FR are is like saying what’s your favorite book to 100 people. There will probably be a huge swath of stuff and those fun discussions where people ask, “how’d that get in the top 40?”
Now I’d like that product just to watch the social media discussions that surround it.
Troy, I very much enjoyed this article. It gives a solid look at what I believe the team at D&D HQ wants the brand of D&D to be, something we can pick the high points out of without getting bogged down in the details.
Concerning the Realms. For those people who love all the old stuff, the back catalogue is now available, as you said. So now Realms fans can have their cake and eat it too while newer realms fans can more easily find the things they love about the Realms.
I wouldn’t call it the top 40, just you know, 40 gives you either 2 or 3 pages per section (in 96 or 128 page book) to cover each place. (Also, I think 40 places gives you sufficient entries to capture the scope of the realms.)
Make it “Ed’s Top 40,” or even Jeff Grubb’s top 40 or a personal selection from any of the other top creators. Such a survey — your top 40 favorite things of the Realms would be a hoot to read. Run lists from all those creatives sideby side, then maybe a 2 graf reminiscence on something from the list that stands out or is unique by that author, artist or editor. That would be fun.
Sorry I took so long to respond, but I had to track down a copy of the Beginner’s Box so I could look at the entry Michael described. (Last time I looked at Sandpoint, was in PF 1).
I totally get what Michael is going for. A two-page spread in this fashion on even 10 Sword Coast locations would have done much to enhance the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide.
I could envision a lot of utility if the entry page had a city map with 10 keyed locations and bullet point descriptions, icons to indicate key commerce elements (it is “Ed’s Realms”, after all) and a point of history on the first page with descriptions of important NPCs and a bullet-point list of adventure hooks on the second page.
The thing is, in terms of information, the SCAG is almost there, anyway. In many cases, it might be a matter of packaging. At least, that’s my read of it.
But yeah, do this for Luskan, Neverwinter, Waterdeep, Skullport, Waterdeep, Undermountain, Baldur’s Gate, Calimport and a handful of other place and you are well on your way to providing a solid primer on the SC. Even if they went the Volo route and did it by means of an “unreliable” narrator, it would have been an improvement on SCAG.
Ah, Eberron. One of my favorite convention games was running a chase through Sharn with the PCs and adversaries riding magically empowered contraptions (motorcycles). That was a blast.
If you think that’s steampunk gone too far, consider that when I went to the Smithsonian this year, I saw the original motorcycle. Some inventor had strapped a V8 airplane engine to a bicycle. Wow! I can’t imagine how you’d stop that thing …