Friday, January 28, 2011

Why I Love the Forgotten Realms Setting

Yes, I'm sure most of you are cringing at reading the post title.  Let me be clear about something; I am a fan of the Forgotten Realms setting up to, and only shortly after, the 1993 boxed set was released.  I am not a fan of the current 4e incarnation since I'm hardly familiar with it, or the 4e system for that matter, at all.  That said, I know that within the particular hard core circles of the OSR community, the Forgotten Realms setting is maligned as it signified a step away from the niche Gygaxian hobby, and a move towards commercialism and mass-market appeal.  Perhaps I was just a young, impreshionable teenager, and hence a prime example of how their "mass market appeal" worked.  I'd like to think it was more than that though, and after having read through my old 1993 boxed setting again, I'm pretty sure it was.

The great thing about the Realms back then was the rich and varied detail in the setting.  It was very much a high fantasy setting full of magic and wonder populated by varying countries, NPC's, and creatures galore.  Within the sourcebooks, there was just enough detail about each region to give a DM an idea on how to incorporate those areas into his/her game.  The maps were all fantastic and wonderfully rendered with plenty of space in certain areas for the DM to incorporate elements of his own creation into the Realms seamlessly. 

I understand there were a great many products released for the Realms, and a great many of them were crap.  TSR, and later WotC, was able to use the Realms as a platform for their product because of the mass appeal of a lot of their novels.  As a result, many of the books and supplements were absolute garbage.  I know because I threw away many a dollar on their shrinkwrapped splatbooks and modules, only to open them and discover the content within practically useless.  Still yet, overall the Forgotten Realms of that era was the most rich high fantasy setting out there.  If there was a sourcebook I didn't like, I simply didn't incorporate its contents into my game.

It's sort of funny in hindsight, because I was never a huge Ed Greenwood fan.  I never could get into his novels, and felt he focused way too much time doting on Elminster's awesomeness in his writings on the Realms; something that made me throw up a little each time I saw an instance of it.  Then again, I was a Drizzt fanboy as well, which is something else that will likely make many readers from the old school cringe.  Sorry, I thought he was a great character and I like RA Salvatore's books.

I understand the frustation of many from the old guard who see 2nd edition, and the removal of Gygax from the game, as the start of the long road that has led to the demise of the hobby as they once new it.  Just because I am a fan of 2e and the Realms doesn't mean that I'm unsympathetic or ignorant to this notion.  Gary was Dungeons and Dragons, we can all agree with that.  With that said, however, I can still say I loved the Forgotten Realms and the setting will always have a place near and dear to me.  Well, the 1993 edition will anyway. 


  1. I've always thought the Forgotten Realms were pretty cool. I've had some fun adventures there. Like many others, I enjoyed TSR's hey day. I loved being able to walk into Game Towne in San Diego, knowing that there'd be something new and different to entice me. I have been getting re-acquainted with 2e and have yet to find anything in the PHB that makes me cry, "Heresy!" Then again, perhaps I am the heretic because I believe that others besides Gygax were capable of taking D&D and doing something wondrous with it.

  2. The Gray Box FR campaign setting was one of my best-loved D&D purchases--I used it (and the transparent hex-grid overlay sheet that came with it) extensively in high school in the early '90s. There were a lot of items in it that just cried out for appropriation and tweaking, and it was never so restrictive that you couldn't just pull it out and run with it, rather than having to assimilate every bit of information before trying to adventure there.

    Another FR item I really loved from that time period was the Ruins of Undermountain boxed set. With the multiple entrances, lots of unkeyed areas, and vague allusions to "what it's all about", it was my first real introduction to the concept of the megadungeon as an impressionable teenager, and I adored it!

  3. @christian- There's nothing wrong with 2e in comparison although naysayers claim they sterilized the game by taking out the demons, and also because the folks at TSR ousted Gygax. Some of the supplements were bad like Council of Wyrms, but overall I think it was the best edition of the game.

    @taketoshi-i was first introduced to the realms from the gray box. Also, my buddies and I were ran thru undermountain back in he day and it was a great experience. Some of our best memories came from that undermountain campaign in fact.

  4. I think I have some scans of the books lying around somewhere--I almost want to set up a second game just to run it, on occasion :)

  5. I LOVED 2e back when I was a young pup, I fetishized te "Complete Whatever" books. Looking back, the 2e core books aren't THAT much different than 1e, but they definitely lack the style and panache that 1e had.

  6. JJ- I think a lot of it goes back to the idea of how D&D moved beyond a niche hobby that was merely whispered about in library corners and high school classrooms in it's 1e incarnation, to a more mainstream hobby. Perhaps there were elements that were sterilized, but I think enough was still present within the game to give it a great, fantastic feel.

    A big factor too, was the move away from the "dungeon crawl" and into more interactions with the world at large. The Realms was a great example of that.