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Author Topic: Forgotten Realms - Back in the day.  (Read 2232 times)

YuriPRIME

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Forgotten Realms - Back in the day.
« on: June 03, 2016, 04:40:49 PM »
Well, I guess that's going to be my first real thread here. Was a bit surprised no one nudged the obvious sleeping giant, the poster child of the franchise that D&D is most associated with (no doubt, in large due to video games and literature), so yeah... why the heck not? I have observed you guys from the shadows for far too long so perhaps I'll throw in a thought or two, couple questions, to get the discussion going.


To start: Whenever I searched for Forgotten Realms, I often came across varying opinions, with some people loving it to death and defending it with pitchforks and torches, while others being extremely critical of nearly every aspect of it, pointing out how unrealistic it is and how messy in it's direction. Don't know how's it in the West exactly, but over here, you either love it or hate it. I'm in the former camp, but I love it for quite opposite reason to certain individuals (and I'm saying that after a 2 hours of conversation with a die-hard Salvatore's fan who contemplates exploits of a certain Drow with the sort of reverence reserved for Muad'Dib by his most trusted Fedaykin)
One sort of critique on the other hand that I hear the most is perhaps best put by Kurt Wiegel, from Game Geeks, where in his review of Bloodstone Lands he pointed out, and rightfully so, that Forgotten Realms seems to be stuffed with wonders to a point every second barmaid you meet could be a 3rd level Magic User. Others point the setting's not 'grim' enough, not 'realistic' enough... you got city-states which field humongous armies despite being roughly the size of a small XVIII century town, that it's an early medieval setting where you got men in full plated renaissance armors, where peasants can read and write, while social dynamics are more reminiscent of modern times then actual dark ages, yet almost nobody knows of gunpowder, despite there being an area where followers of Gond already fly steam-powered airships and... it makes no sense.

To that I say... That's wonderful! Personally, I prefer solid historical settings, history is my hobby and I just love it as realistic as possible - as for me, it's a voyage to this other world for good or bad, having a taste of the dark ages as they could have been. But at the same time... I absolutely love and adore Warcraft. Why? It's not realistic, it's over the top, it makes no sense, it's so bombastic in every aspect, especially it's naming convention, where every character seems to have a cool sounding name that almost perfectly defines his or her future role in the world. It mixes so many themes, but yet stays true to what it want's to be. It never pretends to be anything more, then self-aware, light-hearted, kitschy fun. I remember the movie by Zach Sneyder, "300", in very same context. It was two hours long brutal action packed flick, highly stylized to reflect the aesthetic of a graphic novel - it presented itself that way in the trailers, while buying tickets you were fully aware what you're going into and it was exactly what they promised. Same with Manowar's albums and couple other examples, you just can't deny this sort of charm there is in a product which stays true to what it is in it's core.

And what is the world of Faerun? It's a Fable. And beautiful at that. It is a place where every second barmaid you meet can be an enchantress in hiding, who fled her home because of great bombastic evil, personified by a cackling maniac in dark robes with a big ass letter "Z" written on his cape. It's a world where you can have an old wizard with waist-long beard and a pointy hat delivering a story to a group of adventurers who listen to him, awestruck like children who just met a Santa Claus, without someone whining: "Ohhh if you're a wizard you shouldn't be wearing such obvious clothes, yaaa knoow." While reading through the sourcebooks, I could see the Ed Greenwood pouring his thoughts onto a piece of paper, copying his childhood fantasies, adding more and more as he grew. Fantasies about faries, unicorns, majestic dragons, heroes and villains, to whom the skewed laws of this dream-like world are exactly the norm. Is it realistic? Not at all. And it doesn't have to be. In my introduction to this forum I said that for me Old School gaming is like archaeology... obviously, wasn't born in time to play it myself in proper years, however I'm having a blast discovering it now. Like being a fan of old cars from the 20's, 30's and on, you don't drive them to win a modern race, where everything's optimized for efficiency and some outside goal... No, the experience of driving this car is a goal in itself, to feel the mechanism react to your inputs, to hear the roar of an old engine, to smell the fumes, to struggle with fully analogue systems with no electronic assistance. It's kind of the same story with Forgotten Realms (but also Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Mystara) - ever since, we've seen many more settings introduced, they came and went. Some going for the Dark and Grim feels, some for realism, some for action and adventure, some for drama, some for comedy, some try to be cinematic! (Whatever that dreadful term means, don't ask me, saw it somewhere on RPG Now.) Forgotten Realms, at least up to 3rd edition, had roughly same familiar form of a genuine Fable, where all sort of Brothers Grimm tales, Arthurian legends and biblical-style Myths could have been presented coherently, on same fantastic background. I think it's a unique trait for a setting that established itself in such a way, it allows the DM to let his imagination run wild, take the brave ideas of his players and implement it all into the adventure without everyone going "Huh?" In short, it's a setting that isn't chained to any specific theme, isn't pretentious, never tried to pose to be anything BUT a Fable...
I think the best 'picture' to illustrate what I mean would be this artwork by J.C. Christensen. A group of creatures, all races and sort, sit down in a magical forest, to listen to a tale of a cheery old sage. They are fascinated and all listen to him enthralled as he speaks of ancient histories. Now... this picture is not from Forgotten Realms, has nothing to do with it... But you must admit, that even after a short glance, you wouldn't deny that it looks like it could be an artwork for Forgotten Realms, would you now? Somehow, it just feels right.
And if it feels right in that way, then analogically, it doesn't feel wrong to have a peasant who can both write and read, who's an old veteran now living as a humble farmer to atone for his sins. It doesn't feel wrong to have a wonderful plothook behind every corner to get the characters on a magnificent quest where you save the world for the third time this week. It doesn't feel wrong to have Gods descent from their joint in another dimension, to trot about in silly costumes and mingle with random mortals for shits and giggles. It doesn't feel wrong to have an enchanted medallion of instant-affection backfire on a saucy bard who, by accident and misfortune, used it on a barbarian chieftain instead of his daughter, and now has the biggest steamy bloke in the realm eager to get  hairy and make him humble, Iron Sheik style... (well, maybe that last one feels a tad bit wrong, but for completely different reasons)

So! After this essay, time for questions - I guess it's about discussion after all, isn't it? :P
1) What's Faerun to You? How do you see it? Like it or not? And if so, why exactly?
2) Let's get technical - any resources/splatbooks worth any note? Favorites?
3) A personal favorite location for an adventure?
4) Modules... which ones are the best choice to run as an introduction of the fresh group into the setting?

1) Well, that I pretty much explained above. I like that unique, lighthearted feel of Forgotten Realms. If I feel like going for Grim Dark, I'll go for Warhammer. If I feel like going for Sci-Fi, my take is Heavy Gear and BattleTech. If I feel like I want some realistic life-threatening experience, I'll go for Twilight2000 or Mutant Chronicles. But when I want to just sit back, relax with a cup of sweet coffee and cream, listening to some pleasant fantasy ambient and take a dive in a warm atmosphere of a fable... nothing hits the spot better then the fruit of Greenwood's loins (...okay that doesn't sound right either, but I'll pretend my lack of metaphorical acumen comes from the language and cultural barrier - yes, let's stick with that.)
2) The Campaign Setting seems like an obvious part here, but let's skip that since... well, it's obvious and that's what you'll need anyway, mechanically at least. But for the older editions(I'm stuck with 2nd), there's really no understanding how the Realms "Live and Think" without Volo's Guides series. - Personally I always prefered when flavor text is presented with some sort of local's sentiment, their worldviews, quirks, emotions, etc. And better yet, if it's presented with the language which would be used to describe such places. It's really handy for DMs who like to impersonate NPCs during conversations, since you can literary lift the description from the book and present it to players, without transcribing the technical terms. Surprisingly handy when you want to write a rumors-table, or simply play a barkeep while your group just asks for how are things in nearby town, or is there anything of value. Fantastic resource.
3) My bet is always Cormyr, with slow shift towards the Dalelands. Depending of course on the period of time, and I tend to play during or after Time of Troubles, it's a great place to start. Cormyr is relatively safe and peaceful, meaning the players will have enough time to get acquainted with mechanics, locals, while keeping the scale of threat on relatively reasonable level. It's also a typical generic fantasy kingdom... and some may say it's not that attractive prospect, but I think it provides a great gateway to the setting in general. Cormyr's in the very 'middle' - to the North you got orcs and gnolls, of course Haunted Halls of The Eveningstar - a nice dungeon to explore once your players get comfy with few smaller quests. Further to the North and East, you got the Dalelands with it's ruins, deep woods and omnipresent Zhentarim who are such a lovely bunch of baddies to grind into a bloody paste. Cormyr's in good relations with most neighbors, got it's ports so you can go pretty much wherever you want, meaning after your group is both geared up and experienced enough, you can easily transfer them to other iconic areas. Oh yeah... and since Cormyr is a well managed country, they are prosperous enough to pay the adventurers enough coin so they can manage longer voyages.
4) I always wanted to try Ruins of Undermountain mega-dungeon, but I doubt I ever get people interested in playing one, so I can't say I have much experience with this one, but there is a small chain of simple adventures which open up a lot of possibilities before the group. It's the Sword of the Dales series, which ends on a great note. 3 modules which have the characters play a very symbolic and partially political role to people of the Dales. When they're done they should be about 4'th or 5'th level, but what's great about it is, they made a names for themselves. For characters who seek fame and some place to call home, have perhaps some sort of base of operation, it's a nice choice. Better yet the characters have a chance to make some historical impact on the zone. It gives a great sense of accomplishment at the end, like it's a proper episode or a chapter.
« Last Edit: June 03, 2016, 04:54:13 PM by YuriPRIME »

Offline DocMindwipe

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Re: Forgotten Realms - Back in the day.
« Reply #1 on: June 07, 2016, 04:18:30 PM »
Overall.... I love the Realms, with all it's details. HOWEVER.... while I love it, I don't want to DM in that world. Much easier for a fella to DM in Greyhawk. For the reason that it is not as detailed as the Realms. Also... go out on the street and find yourself 100 D&D players. you'll find at least 99 of them who knows "everything" about the Realms... so many in fact, that if I choose in my game to change the sigil of the Harpers, for example, they'll cry foul play and give a mouthful of some choice words about how stupid I am for not playing the Realms "right". Yes, these players DO exist. And they're the reason why I'll never ever use the Realms as my setting ever again.

On the other hand, if you can find 100 Greyhawk players... what they'll say is "so this is how YOU run Greyhawk... interesting... great idea"

Now... I already said I love the realms. I do Because of the detail. At the same time, the details of the Realms is their downfall, at least for me. BUT, I won't hesitate about cannibalising Abeir-Toril for anything I find intersting and stuff it (only slightly modified) into Greyhawk.

And THAT is why having a massive Realms library is super-important ;)

Offline kevinwatson

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Re: Forgotten Realms - Back in the day.
« Reply #2 on: June 07, 2016, 07:49:36 PM »
DMW,

That is exactly why I don't run FR, and why my campaign setting, when published will start with something along the lines of:

This is yours now. Do with it what you will. There will be no "advancing the story" and no canon products to follow.

Offline Alex Karaczun

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Re: Forgotten Realms - Back in the day.
« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2016, 07:27:38 AM »
I'm with DMW and Kevin!

I actually had one of those, "you're running The Realms™ wrong!" players. However that hasn't totally soured me to the realms. I might run it again from the 1st Edition setting box with the right people.

How I would tend to want to use it now is as an "other" realm for Greyhawk players to visit. Planar travelling might take them there, but I would be very mysterious about it, never calling it by name and keeping them to out of the way and not oft detailed areas to keep them guessing. I'm also a big fan of the "shades of earth (or Oerth)" idea that was prominent with Greyhawk in the 70s and 80s and is a big part of Ernie Gygax's Hobby Shop Dungeon. The idea being that there are infinite shades of the world, some with small differences and others barely recognizable to the inhabitants of another.

Good stuff!
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