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The Forgotten Realms And Elminster's Stupid Pipe


I have found myself thinking of the Forgotten Realms lately. Which is odd, because I haven't run anything there for over 15 years. Yet its been on my mind a lot lately, perhaps because my True 20 Port Blacksand campaign is sort of inter-planar in scope, and has had a couple of mentions of the Realms (ships sailing to PB from Waterdeep, for ex), and I've been thinking of the PCs possibly ending up going there for a visit someday.
Man, the Realms. There's one setting that got screwed more than any other by the Swine. Sure, WoD was screwed from the start; and these days, you think of the Realms and many a gamer feels like (and younger gamers can be forgiven for mistakenly believing that) this was always a fucked-up mess of a setting. A grotesque caserole of over the top powergaming and kitchen-sink setting, mingled with unbelievably annoying metaplot and fiction-driven story restrictiveness that reduces any party that plays there to a group of ridiculously overpowered goons who are nevertheless mere rah-rah cheerleaders for the Simbul or Elminster or Drizzt. I know people that actually start tearing off their own pubic hair and try to stab their eardrums out with number 2 pencils at the mere mention of the Drow or Elminster.
And well they should, these days. Though frankly, there has been a lot of serious improvement since the advent of 3.x edition FR material. The campaign book was so good I actually went out and bought it. The Underdark book is spectacular, and many of the "region books" (shining south, unapproachable east) are relatively well done too. Yes, each and every one of these suffers from the powergameritis of having to cram thousands of new prestige classes, feats, and one powerful race after the other, as a selling point. And that's something that has only gotten worse with 3.x; but on the plus side at least the crushing stifling metaplot present thoughtought the 90s has been toned down. The setting had gotten to the point in the Swine era that the setting was being driven entirely by the novels, and events in the novels radically altered the setting in ways that had nothing to do with what was favourable for roleplay, and everything to do with attracting idiotic sophomoric readers of B-grade novels who lack the Pixie-given sense to realize they were frying their IQ on the literary equivalent of undercooked big macs.
Don't get me wrong, while there has been improvement, the damage is already done. The Realms is officially a disaster now; hideous, nonsensical, unplayable. It's now just a dumping ground for powergaming nonsense and a showcase for D&D 3.5's inexorable power-creep parade toward implosion.
But what a lot of people forget is that, once upon a time, the Realms were amazing. They really were. In the original boxed set, they were a thing of beauty. Ed Greenwood's vision, his setting, as it really was, remains one of the greatest RPG settings ever designed not to be based on a pre-existing famous novel, movie trilogy, etc etc.
The original realms, in that original boxed set, were a great big vast empty continent, with a few regions detailed in astounding richness, where every step just reeked of adventure. Waterdeep was the city of splendors back then, the greatest place in the Realms, with no vast kingdoms of superhero magi to make it seem dull in comparison to. The Dalelands were in every way the medieval english countryside with its rural folksy society, a place that could easily be home and would be desperately worth protecting. Cormyr was the arthurian kingdom par excellence. There were entire countries, like Sembia, about which we knew nothing, really, and had the freedom to direct as we wished. And the big fat area between Cormyr and the Sword Coast? Wild wild wilderness, a place full of adventure (not full of sourcebooks), where your Adventuring Company (and what a brilliant idea that was!) could discover the unknown or carve out a new empire.  Back then the Zhentarim were a real and badass enemy, not a bad joke. The Red Wizards were a dark mystery, not travelling salesmen or an excuse for powergaming. The Harpers were political revolutionaries, striking out against social injustice whether they had government approval or not; they weren't just a prestige class.
Back then you still had Elminster and Blackstaff and the Simbul, but they weren't the dominant feature. The regular people and places were the dominant feature. The Dalelands were the Dalelands, not "the place where Elminster lives".
Forgotten Realms was brilliant back then, because of its consistency. None of its countries were exactly like any real-world historical kingdom, but they were all more or less of that same kind of British/Western European mold, you didn't have egyptian kingdoms and Chinese and Arabian and Mayans all crammed in there. The realms back then were not a patchwork quilt, an ungainly frankenstein monster of any place imaginable.
The Forgotten Realms was also brilliant back then as much because of the lack of detail, as it was for its detail. Where it was detailed, it was a great lifelike detail. It didn't feel made up by a committee the way most Realms stuff (or other D&D settings like Eberron) feel today. It felt like it was a real place with centuries of history and decades of real-world design.
But where the realms wasn't detailed was where it really shined. The vast area of emptiness, or the entire kingdoms that had only general guidelines without a total coverage down to the very minutia. That's what made the Realms playable. You felt very much that what was detailed was Ed Greenwood's brilliant setting, and what was not was the place you could make the Realms yours.
Today there isn't an INCH of the FR that doesn't have a sourcebook dedicated to it. Nothing is hidden, nothing is unknown. Nothing is yours. Its a place for you to go be a spectator of places that are established.
Not to mention that back then you didn't have total fuckwits who owned 180000 books on the FR, or the mental defectives who have read every one of the aforementioned undercooked big mac-novels; so back then you didn't invariably have some asshat constantly trying to tell you that your description of the sewer systems of north Arabel were wrong because he'd read The Ultimate Forgotten Realms Waste Disposal Guide.
If I do have my players visit the Realms, it will be MY Realms, and my Realms will seem a lot like the old, original Ed Greenwood realms. The land of the original boxed set, the place of wonder and the unknown. And the first of them to try to tell me that some setting detail is wrong will have his character ass-raped by a gang of Planetouched Orcish Folkloric Dancers.
Yes, my deepest regards to Ed Greenwood and his original vision; but I will give him one piece of criticism. It is quite clear to me that Mr.Greenwood is not a pipe smoker, or if he ever was it was only the most amateur sense. Any real pipe smoker would never have come up with an idea like Elminster's Everburning Pipe. That item would be a curse, not a blessing. To real pipe smokers, half the pleasure of smoking a pipe is picking out the pipe you want out of your collection, choosing your tobacco with care; then the ritual of packing the bowl, and the lighting of it, not to mention exploring the variance of flavour as the tobacco works its way down from the light airy top to the rich full bottom of the bowl.
Only a non-smoker would think that a pipe that never goes out is a good thing.
June 15th, 2005

Might not belong here, but I cannot find you Mystara campaign log. Would you be so nice to give a link?

Mystery Man:
Huge FR fan here from the old days. I don't read the novels so I have no idea what is going on but...

Had I done my research before I got the Dragons of Faerun I would have realized it was based on yet another pointless fucking RSE I would have never bought it.
As it stands now DoF is a nice book to mine for prestatted dragons.  If I ever run an FR campaign again it is going to be post apocalyptic.

So very disappointed.


--- Quote from: Settembrini ---Might not belong here, but I cannot find you Mystara campaign log. Would you be so nice to give a link?
--- End quote ---

It should be either in the site called "the vault of pandius" or the Mystara message boards on the WoTC boards.



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