Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Retrospective: Forgotten Realms Campaign Set

I've often said that, as a group, we gamers have very short memories. Worse than that, though, are selective memories, which we also possess in abundance. I bring this up in the wake of the still-ongoing debate raging in the comments of my recent post about the D&D/AD&D Chronology. 1987 saw the release of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set, which, for some, is as much of a harbinger of The End as I consider the release of Dragons of Despair to be. While I understand some of the ire directed at the setting, I nevertheless remain committed to the notion that the original boxed set describes a world whose old school pedigree is no less "pure" than that of Greyhawk or Blackmoor.

Granted, the treatment of the Forgotten Realms as a brand, by both TSR and WotC, has often been less than ideal, to put it very charitably. Indeed, Jeff Grubb's introduction to the DM's Sourcebook to the Realms (one of two books contained in the boxed set) makes this quite plain:
About midsummer of 1986, TSR was shopping for a new world. We had experience in world-building under our belt, with two versions of the WORLD OF GREYHAWK™ campaign setting, and the creation of Krynn, home of the DRAGONLANCE Saga. This time, we were after something different; a world that we could continue to develop over the years that will follow, and set all future AD&D game modules into. A place where a variety of talented individuals could all contribute to its creation and its development. Rather than one view, a combination of views that would grow and develop through adventures, sourcebooks, short stories, and books.
Please take note of the of the bolded section in the quote. As it turned out, TSR did not in fact set all future AD&D modules in the Realms, but they certainly made a good effort at it, producing reams of Realms-related products over a very short period of time. In the process, they certainly gave the impression that AD&D and the Forgotten Realms were synonymous, an impression that left a bad taste in the mouths of D&D fans.

Coming as this did so soon after the ouster of Gary Gygax from TSR, a mythology has grown up around the Realms that I think is both untrue and unfair. If one examines the Campaign Set on its own merits, it's not much different than what was found in the 1983 World of Greyhawk boxed set. There's more room given to NPC descriptions, it's true, but the vast majority of those NPCs are 9th level and below -- precisely the sorts of people with whom an average adventuring party would likely interact. There are a handful of higher level NPCs, including the much-reviled Elminster, but their descriptions make them appear almost as "scenery," no different than describing noteworthy cities or landmarks. There's little implication that Elminster or Khelben Arunsun are traveling the world, righting all its wrongs. If anything, the implication is exactly the opposite: evil in the Realms is too strong for any one person or group of persons to overcome, which is where the PCs come into play.

I think it's here that one of the largest fault lines lies for those who dislike the Realms. The Realms in unambiguously a world in need of "heroes," not merely "adventurers." A Realms character is far less likely to be venal and self-interested, doing good more by accident than by design. As a fan of morally ambiguous protagonists, I can certainly appreciate this critique of the Realms, even if I don't find it a damning one. Not all fantasy literature is Howardian/Leiberian swords-and-sorcery and not all swords-and-sorcery tales exist in a moral vacuum. There is room for a type of fantasy where fighting evil is the primary focus.

The problem, I think, is that, when the Realms made their debut, TSR attempted to push the setting as its sole vision of what D&D was and should be. You either signed on to it or you were left out in the cold. At least that's how it appeared to many gamers, who soon resented the Realms and its popularity, all the while forgetting that much of what they disliked about the setting had more to do with TSR's marketing than with any essential qualities of the setting itself. If one looks carefully at the original boxed set, what you find is a wild world beset by evil, where communication and travel are slow and local problems loom far larger than epic, world-shattering plots.

Ed Greenwood's own campaign was far more localized than was Gary Gygax's Greyhawk campaign, for what it's worth, and the power level of the PCs much lesser to boot. And this is all quite clear in the original boxed set, whose treatment of most topics is sketchy and suggestive rather than definitive. It's a superb sandbox setting for heroic fantasy. Now, not everyone wants a heroic fantasy sandbox and there's nothing wrong with that. However, I think it unfair to expect the Realms to be Greyhawk or Nehwon or the Dying Earth; it was never intended to be. What it is is the product of a longstanding D&D campaign, played by real people, which puts it head and shoulders above many later beloved TSR settings who owe their origins solely to finding new ways to squeeze yet more money from the game's fanbase.

If I sound defensive on this point, I apologize. I make no bones about the fact that I have been a fan of the Realms since I first read Greenwood's articles in Dragon. His setting always struck me as the kind of campaign I wish I had run -- not just the setting itself, although I did love it, but also the group of regular, steady players whose characters grew slowly over time and many exciting adventures. That doesn't blind me to the fact that, over the years, the Forgotten Realms product line has included many, many silly things and has thrived on a constant stream of auctorial one-upmanship in an effort to sell more supplements and novels. But I don't think that has any more bearing on the quality of the original Campaign Set than does the existence of the Rose Estes Greyhawk novels (or, for that matter, the later Gygax-penned "Gord the Rogue" books) have on the World of Greyhawk.

Critics often forget that the Forgotten Realms Campaign Set was the last campaign setting released for First Edition. Though the 2e era is where the Realms were flogged to death, it was 1e that gave birth to it and that's quite visible in the product itself, if one cares to read it with unbiased eyes. In reviewing my copy for this retrospective, I found myself able to forget all that came after it and enjoy it for what it is: a huge, wide-open setting drawn in broad strokes, just waiting for individual referees and players to fill in the details -- exactly what a good campaign setting should be.

41 comments:

  1. I agree. While I am not critical of later releases as you are, the Realms is definitely one of the better campaign settings out there and Greenwood was a big part of 1e if you consider his numerous dragon articles, including defining things like the Nine Hells where some of his lore still stands today.

    I also agree with your statement about it being a "real campaign". I think the biggest flaw with all the other campaigns that TSR/WoTC released is that they were never really created by one man, but by committee. Oerth and Faerun--at least the core continent originally defined, contain a lot of the elements that come from a DM/writer over years of play and creativity. Granted, in both works, it was changed for publication, but those elements endure.

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  2. "If one looks carefully at the original boxed set, what you find is a wild world beset by evil, where communication and travel are slow and local problems loom far larger than epic, world-shattering plots."

    Bingo.

    Good point about the switch to "Heroic" type gaming, which the FR set definitely promoted. I didn't have a lot of problems with this, as my players were mostly of the Heroic bent (having been raised on a steady diet of the G/D/Q series, where their "rewards" were mostly non-monetary). I can see where it might have posed problems to more morally ambiguous gamers, but truthfully in the first few supplements (FR1-3, FR5) and the boxed set, there exists plenty of opportunities for the more "lawless" type character that many players love. I do see where the difference in style might have upset a lot of old timers already pissed at the general direction of TSR the few years before; having said that, a campaign world is what you make of it. IMO the FR original boxed set is really the perfect sandbox, with just enough info to run the world but not enough to overwhelm the novice DM or player....at the same time providing a lot of "meat" for the more experienced DM and players. Would that it could have stayed that way......

    In my blog last week I did a little retrospective on the set, and I talk about the sandbox qualities, and how the first few releases (all 1st edition) were remarkably different in tone and presentation than most of the later stuff. I think lack of familiarity with this set, and the circumstances of EGG's departure from TSR, color people's perceptions; a good read of the material by these folk would surprise them. I have a theory had publication stopped on the FR about 1990 or so, and TSR had, say, promoted Dark Sun as the face of 2E, the original 1E FR would get a lot more love from the old school crowd. Most of the problems with the setting are the results of later edicts, directions and publications regarding the setting, and are not really reflected in it's original presentation.

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  3. This post makes me happy in a number of ways.

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  4. After Michael Curtis did his week of FR related postings, I went down to my local game store who had a shrink wrapped copy of the boxed set. Naturally it was gone. I became quite curious about FR then.

    As for the discussion about when The End or The Downhill Slide started or who was responsible I have an accusation to make. If you think the glut of stuff for later eras of the game is sad, ask yourself if you ever bought any game tie-in fiction? Those books sold well, and still do. I don't blame TSr for ruining the hobby or the Realms. If someone did (doubtful) it's those who bought those novels.

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  5. Its somewhat ironic that FR has evolved into a mainly high-fantasy setting. That process was apparently overseen by the developers at TSR, as the setting saw its genesis in the Howard and Leiber inspired short fiction Greenwood wrote about his main protagonist, Mirt.

    For what its worth, the setting was quickly adopted by my high-school group when it first came out, and was the setting of my first play experiences in modules like the Slavers series, and Deserts of Desolation. It was also the home of my highest-level character, Aron Feneffon, 18th level Druid Heirophant.:)

    With the original gray box, at least, the setting became what you made of it. I lay the canonization of the setting squarely at the feet of the FR novels, a classic case of too many spoons stirring the pot.

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  6. John said: Oerth and Faerun--at least the core continent originally defined, contain a lot of the elements that come from a DM/writer over years of play and creativity.

    I think that is an important point. IMHO, the best settings are those that had a history of play before being published. You just can't imitate the kind of stuff that comes out of play.

    Word verification: puseria. Um... yeah.

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  7. "If you think the glut of stuff for later eras of the game is sad, ask yourself if you ever bought any game tie-in fiction? Those books sold well, and still do."

    This probably greatly contributed to the "downfall" of the Realms. From what I remember (anyone with actual sources is welcome to chime in) Douglas Niles' original Moonshae trilogy sold like crazy (and is still in print, 20 years later); Azure Bonds had massive sell through; and we all know how R.A. Salvatore's original Crimson Shard trilogy changed the fiction/RPG relationship forever.

    It doesn't seem far-fetched to picture the type of money the FR fiction was bringing in, and the not-so-gentle nudges from the powers that be to make the setting more "hero oriented" so as better to sell the novels. This differing mindset about handling the entire line seems to begin right about at the point of the Time of Troubles (both modules and fictional trilogy) and the switch to 2E in 1989/1990 or so.

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  8. James, I don't understand how you can defend the Forgotten Realms and indict Dragonlance for exactly the same thing.

    They are both brilliant ideas, poorly executed.

    At least in the case of Dragonlance, the design team did what they set out to do.

    That it was a success that led to bad things, would seem to be not Dragonlance's fault.

    On the other hand, the FR design team just ground it into the ground. Whatever the quality of the original boxed set (which I also rather like).

    That world is STILL unusable. I tried for a time, and continually ran into players with every boxed set, who knew so much more about the world than me, that I gave up.

    Separating the original boxed set from the mangled, monstrosity of a brand (novels, video games and a metric ton of game material)is, to me, impossible.

    Not to mention, there are just so many other campaign worlds I can use without these problems (Hyboria and Greyhawk leap to mind).

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  9. I agree. The initial boxed set of FR was really good. The stuff I hate about the realms came afterward; super-NPCs everywhere, world-spanning communications via the wiz-o-phone, etc. That original set was really good. I think Greyhawk grabbed me more because ... I don't know why, the difference might have been as small as the awesome Darlene map plus the region around the Nyr Dyv plus the names (I like Gygax's naming better than Greenwood's). All told, that's a pretty small margin of preference.

    All my dislike for the Realms comes from what was done to it in later products. Which Greyhawk is probably guilty of nowadays, too...

    Oooh, ooh, the stars are right! My verification word is CULTU! (Cthulhu??)

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  10. That world is STILL unusable. I tried for a time, and continually ran into players with every boxed set, who knew so much more about the world than me, that I gave up.

    This comment raise up a good point. Why did you just make the Forgotten Realms your own? With the canon set by the books you did own (or want to include).

    Certainly this what happened with the Wilderlands (because the original was so terse and production ceased). I seen this with Greyhawk as well where one referee's Greyhawk is not the same as anohther. It wasn't until the advent of Living Greyhawk did I see anything like a canon Greyhawk afflict the setting.

    Again why so many DM uncomfortable in just taking the initial book/set and making the setting their own?

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  11. You can level the same charges at any "brand" that has been beaten into the ground...Star Trek, Conan, Star Wars, Dracula, Cthulhu Mythos...and it all comes down to personal preference. I don't dislike my original REH Conan because of the machinations of De camp and Carter, the Marvel and Dark Horse Comics, the RPG, the dozens of really bad novels by sub-par fantasy writers, the movies, or (now) the board game. I don't let what came later spoil my enjoyment of the original box set and 1E supplements, much as a die hard old school Trekkie doesn't let the movies, TNG, Voyager or DS9 ruin his enjoyment of the "golden years".

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  12. Rob: This comment raise up a good point. Why did you just make the Forgotten Realms your own? With the canon set by the books you did own (or want to include).

    I did. But running a game at a LGS was continually confronted with players who thought they knew the world and were annoyed when they didn't.

    On the other hand, I didn't have those problems when I ran games with Hyboria, Greyhawk or a homebrew world.

    I was happier. The PLAYERS were happier.

    They preferred a world they didn't know to an "alternate" version of one they did.

    Its not a matter of what I could or couldn't do with FR.

    Its a matter of why would I fight against the inherent disadvamtages of FR when there are other worlds (better worlds) without those disadvantages?

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  13. a huge, wide-open setting drawn in broad strokes, just waiting for individual referees and players to fill in the details -- exactly what a good campaign setting should be.

    It might have felt like that when it was released, but 20 years of product releases makes the realms is one of the most bloated settings you can get. There's so much 'baggage' that comes along with running a realms game these days. Everyone has some archetype from one of the novels that they'd like to realize. I heard an interview with Ed Greenwood a while back about how he felt that the realms (even the new edition) was still a wide open place, how the nations and landmasses were so large that there was plenty of room to run whatever game you (the DM) wanted. But I don't think that's true. Because no matter what game you want to run, you still end up with players who want to play typical realms characters.

    The first campaign setting that made me feel like there was plenty of room for the DM was Eberron, and it'll be interesting to see what years of product releases do to that setting.

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  14. I'm with you James, that original FR boxed set was awesome.

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  15. Never have I been a Forgotten Realms fan. Never have I owned a Forgotten Realms ANYTHING (module, supplement, etc.). My experience with Elminster is limited to his entry in the 3rd edition Epic Characters hardback and his old ecology articles in Dragon (BEFORE FR was published). That’s my background as a preface to this:

    I think the most subtly upsetting thing to me about 2E or Forgotten Realms or later editions is the way in which it takes itself so seriously. Now let me just back-up for a second…I am not implying that all D&D is a farce or needs to be played as one. But as a GAME (as I learned it) it certainly had its share of pratfalls in game, even as the player characters were facing the direst of circumstance (i.e. immediate and brutal death).

    I think that REAL humor, not just dry witticisms are as much a part of the original D&D game as it was with Howard’s Conan stories or Vance’s Cugel the Clever. A lot of older D&D includes the same kind of silliness and puns one finds in a Robert Aspirin “Myth” novel. And while every gaming group is allowed to determine their own level of silliness (look at your recent “silly names” post), players knew that what they were playing was a game. Something with which to have fun.

    When one starts getting into the Forgotten Realms and start making the game about “heroes” doing heroic things and “fighting evil” you lose some of that humor. The “+2 back-scratcher “ is nowhere to be found in the 2nd edition DMG…and that’s a frigging pity, in my opinion! That’s one of the reasons I enjoy HackMaster…some of it seems an actual return to old days of humor in D&D.

    Krynn and Dragon Lance was a death knell, but it can be forgiven in part because it was based on a series of novels, a look at “this is a POSSIBLE way to run a campaign.” The modules were railroad, but they served to emulate the novels…just as someone playing a James Bond 007 module seeks to emulate the films.

    But Forgotten Realms removes even the “comic relief” found in Dragon Lance (kinder, gully dwarves), and as it was ‘comic relief’ was a far cry from the amusing silliness I had always associated with AD&D. Without the PERMISSION to say, tie a set of mouse ears on one’s head in an attempt to infiltrate the wererats shrine (again…see DMG for examples), all you have is the weight and pressure of “being heroes”…which is a step away from “telling good stories”…which is what leads to the whole story path system.

    As an outsider looking in, I can say I lost interest in D&D when FR was published…that’s why I never got into 2nd edition, ‘cause I’d already left when they started taking the game too seriously. To me, that was the path of True Nerdiness.

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  16. JB, I'm going to take my hat off and salute you, brother. You are the first critic of the FR I've ever seen that dislikes it because the Silliness Factor was dialed down way too low!!! :)

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  17. Very interesting insight JB. I'm with you!

    On a related note: IMHO, a system that doesn't support crappy PCs is a crappy system.

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  18. James, I don't understand how you can defend the Forgotten Realms and indict Dragonlance for exactly the same thing.

    They are both brilliant ideas, poorly executed.


    See, I don't think they are "exactly the same thing." Dragonlance was a story wrapped in a world, whereas the Realms was a world in which there were stories. In both cases, I think the stories did violence to what otherwise could have been superb fantasy settings (I actually do think Krynn is nifty).

    The difference is that Dragonlance was always conceived of as a vehicle for telling a particular story about a particular group of characters and that was never the case with the Realms. Indeed, the Realms novels feature so many different heroes engaged in so world-shattering plotlines that it's very hard to say that any single one of them is the point of the setting, whereas that's clearly not true of Dragonlance.

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  19. James, let's just say that, having tried to run games in both worlds, it is much easier for me to deal with Dragonlance than FR.

    I have run the DL series numerous times, sometimes using the pre-gen characters, other times using PCs the players made, and never had any significant problems.

    On the other hand, FR was a HUGE pain. Players would look at the map and say "well, we can't go here because of X, we can't go here because of y, so we're going through Z".

    There was no mystery to the world at all.

    And when I went against those expectations, the players weren't happy.

    In short, whatever the quality of that initial boxed set, I found you couldn't really just ignore everything that came after, because it was so ubiquitous.

    When you tell players they're gaming in FR, they have expectations that they know it.

    Its like telling a group of Britons you're running a game in London. They expect you to get it "right".

    And it is SO much easier (and more fun) to get Greyhawk or Hyboria "right", because there's less to master.

    I'm running a game, not doing a research project.

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  20. This one I come down on the other side of the fence, without ever having owned or read FR.

    "... TSR attempted to push the setting as its sole vision of what D&D was and should be... At least that's how it appeared to many gamers, who soon resented the Realms and its popularity, all the while forgetting that much of what they disliked about the setting had more to do with TSR's marketing than with any essential qualities of the setting itself. "

    The Grubb quote seems to demonstrate otherwise. Clearly, the game plan from first publication was (a) universal usage for all of AD&D, (b) development by anyone and everyone on staff, (c) getting away from EGG ("rather than one view", etc.), (c) large numbers of sourcebooks, and (d) good heroes instead of mercenary adventurers. I'm surprised that you're able to separate these explicit goals in the publication itself as being only marketing/non-essential qualities.

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  21. The Grubb quote seems to demonstrate otherwise. Clearly, the game plan from first publication was (a) universal usage for all of AD&D, (b) development by anyone and everyone on staff, (c) getting away from EGG ("rather than one view", etc.), (c) large numbers of sourcebooks, and (d) good heroes instead of mercenary adventurers. I'm surprised that you're able to separate these explicit goals in the publication itself as being only marketing/non-essential qualities.

    Maybe it's because I'd been following the Realms for years in the pages of Dragon and can read between the lines, I don't know. I'm in no way denying that TSR intended the Realms to be a "Trojan Horse," but it's scarcely present in the original boxed set, which is what we're discussing here, not the whole line as it developed over time. Even then, there's a lot to like. Paul Jaquays's The Savage Frontier is an awesome, Wilderlands-style sandbox for the Realms, for example.

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  22. When you tell players they're gaming in FR, they have expectations that they know it.

    That sounds like more a problem with the "culture" that surrounds Realms fandom than it does anything having to do with the original boxed set itself. I think it's a problem common to almost any hardcore group of aficionados.

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  23. James: That might be true, but its not something that's easily separated from the realms in my experience.

    And really, with so many worlds out there, I see no reason to try and fight that culture, when I can just run Greyhawk.

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  24. Wait a sec, Greyhawk doesn't have fans with certain expectations????!!!! :)

    This complaint sounds like a "player" problem more than a "setting" problem.

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  25. I remember this boxed set well from high school. I thought it was magically delicious.

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  26. "Paul Jaquays's The Savage Frontier is an awesome, Wilderlands-style sandbox for the Realms, for example."

    Paul certainly outdid himself here (or at the least matched his typical level of brillance). Hopefully he can attend the next NTRPGCon and I can have time to ask him some specific questions about the development of this supplement. It has a very JG Wilderlands feel to it.

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  27. "It's a superb sandbox setting for heroic fantasy"

    Very interesting analysis, thanks. I hadn't thought of it quite like that before.

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  28. I agree with Chuck. Though the original FR boxed set is brilliant (together with the first 5 or so supplements, including the awesome Savage Frontier), it's still (and was even at the time) more developed than Krynn. What made Dragonlance were the characters, not the world itself. Even in the latest 3e incarnation, you get at most a short paragraph for each nation. I played the original DL modules with characters other than the usual Heroes of the Lance, and every time the players had a blast. The setting is quite open to sandbox gaming, since so few is known about the actualy layout of the land, the peoples that inhabit it etc. It also has the advantage that Ansalon is about as large as Europe, which creates all sorts of interesting feedback between the nations, and makes possible for the actions of the PCs to have a quite wide echo.

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  29. Slightly OT, but... think you could talk Paul Jaquays into an interview? He was all over the early years of RPGs!

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  30. That sounds like more a problem with the "culture" that surrounds Realms fandom than it does anything having to do with the original boxed set itself.

    But how does one go about eliminating that factor in actual play? Only allow those unfamiliar with FR in as players? If that's not a possibility, engage in a constant negotiation with the players over what "canon" they can introduce or not?

    I sympathize with RPGObjects_chuck because I've dealt with the same problem he's pointed out, perfectly servicable core settings rendered unplayable by the expectations of even modestly committed fans. The core Vampire book from oWoD presented a neat set up, but trying to keep up with the details the players expected of the published setting made it un-fun. Likewise, I never read a single DL novel, but liked the setting as presented in its AD&D sourcebook. Of course, existing DL fans found it very frustrating to play any games I ran. And who can blame them?

    Viewed in isolation, I agree that the FR set is great, but its wide fanbase is going to be a factor when you actually try to use it and thus cannot be disregarded; might as well list the FR boxed set's contents as "two booklets, four maps and a whole boatload of pre-existing expectations."

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  31. Badmike: Wait a sec, Greyhawk doesn't have fans with certain expectations????!!!! :)

    Player *always* have expectations. The question is, am I, as the GM, willing and able to meet them.

    In the case of Greyhawk, the material I need to master is the AD&D boxed set and a few 32 page adventures (honestly- none of the material in the Greyhawk modules seemed essential to me- you just needed them to get the "feel" of the world down).

    In the case of FR, its about 20 times that amount of material by page count.

    And again I ask, why swim upstream against those player expectations, when I can just not run FR and avoid the problem altogether.

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  32. "Paul Jaquays's The Savage Frontier is an awesome, Wilderlands-style sandbox for the Realms, for example."

    Oh, that is so unfair. Paul Jaquays would produce awesome fantasy even if he were only given a cheese grater and an old Boggle game. :)

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  33. Greyhawk definitely comes with some baggage, too, though obviously not nearly as much as FR. I've had to deal with it in my own game.

    This past year I've been running an AD&D campaign set in and around Bissel circa 576 CY for a group of reformed 3rd edition D&Ders. It took me months to get through to them that all of the 2e and 3e Greyhawk "canon" they've read (which I hadn't) didn't mean diddly squat.

    Statements like, "In ten years the Horned Society will be gone, swallowed up by the Empire of Iuz," and, "We stop at Village X, see it's on the Gazetteer map!" (but not on my Darlene map) almost drove me insane. I finally had to explain in no uncertain terms that in MY World of Greyhawk their expectations were invalid. My solution to not having an (acceptable) official AD&D resource for the City of Greyhawk and nearby Castle...? It was blown by the Mad Archmage in an apoplectic fit of peeve.

    DM fiat is a perfectly reasonable tool for cases like this, IMO, and can be applied just as easily to the Realms. When the PCs express unwelcome assumptions about the campaign, simply tell them that Elminster is dead, the Time of Troubles never happened, and every "account" of Realms history they've read in the novels should have ended with, "and then he woke up."

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  34. Slightly OT, but... think you could talk Paul Jaquays into an interview?

    Already under way as we speak. Paul's been busy with a move since he took on a new job, but he has my questions and will get to them as soon as he can.

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  35. "Rob: This comment raise up a good point. Why didn't you just make the Forgotten Realms your own? With the canon set by the books you did own (or want to include)."

    I did. But running a game at a LGS was continually confronted with players who thought they knew the world and were annoyed when they didn't.

    [...]

    They preferred a world they didn't know to an "alternate" version of one they did.


    There's some crucial fan-psychology bubbling under your point here, I think. Hardcore gamers tend to be fans, of course, and fans crave consistency (i.e. comfort, a rigidly-enforced creator/audience contract) above nearly all else. With persistent shared fantasy worlds placing such intense buy-in demands, and with one of the key (tacit) satisfactions for fans being 'I know this world and you don't, nah nah nah,' bog-standard exclusionary self-definition stuff really, it makes sense that gamers would be upset at having their world knowledge challenged. Where can they feel safe if not in their (precious) fantasy worlds? What could be more upsetting than being unsettled in the one environment in which they expect to be free of criticism?

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  36. "When the PCs express unwelcome assumptions about the campaign, simply tell them that Elminster is dead, the Time of Troubles never happened, and every "account" of Realms history they've read in the novels should have ended with, "and then he woke up."

    Someone correct me if I'm wrong (or back me up here if you know the source) but I've read somewhere that Ed himself prefers to set his FR games before the Time of Troubles, where it is in a "purer" form closer to his original conception. If Ed can do this I don't see why a good DM can't follow suit.

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  37. Badmike: Someone correct me if I'm wrong (or back me up here if you know the source) but I've read somewhere that Ed himself prefers to set his FR games before the Time of Troubles, where it is in a "purer" form closer to his original conception. If Ed can do this I don't see why a good DM can't follow suit.

    Because the game isn't just about the DM and what version of a campaign setting he wants to use?

    Everyone seems to be telling me I could have forced the players into "my" version of the realms.

    But I didn't really want to. They were more comfortable playing in Greyhawk than an alternate realms.

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  38. Many of the comments here have summed up why I dislike playing (and especially running) games in published campaign settings. With dnd I have ran games in Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk and not 100% sure I would give it the same credit as the other three Ravenloft. I've played in just about all of them up through Eberron.
    First off, I agree with the assessment that the gray box FR set is an excellent product. I also still have a lot of fond memories of Dragonlance Adventures and the Greyhawk box. I use things from each of them still in my own campaign (along with a whole ton of other sources).
    I have never played in an extended campaign in a published world where at least one jerk (and a lot of these jerks are friends I still love) couldn't keep his mouth shut about x, y or z continuity problem and argue the point until everyone just wanted to watch tv or play cards.
    A perfect example. I played in a FR campaign that lasted about three years. Everything was fine for quite a while, the DM and two players were hardcore canon fodder. The other three of us didn't give a rat's ass about FR and we all agreed to play sandbox style and that the world was what we made it pretty much from Gray Box and a couple other earlier sourcebooks. Everything was great until another friend of ours (who ran an AWESOME balls-out 3.x Eberron game off and on) joined as a player. My poor kender wild mage (like I said it was a sandbox) had bit the dust the previous session (an unforgiving sandbox ;) ) and I decided I wanted to play an evil cleric (a huge deal, I've played two evil characters in 20 years). The DM gave me a book of gods and says "pick whoever". I ended up picking Iyactu Xvim (sp?). Well, apparently this fella had been destroyed by the calendar date we were playing, and the new player and two others launch into a Gentlemen's and Women's discussion of canon. After about thirty minutes I remembered why I hated FR, and was quite astonished I had been content for two years playing there.
    To be fair, these are all my friends and there was no argument per se, but when I come to game, I come to game, not listen to an epic retelling of the saga of Drizzt and Pals.
    I guess I'm in full on Ramble Mode now, or suffering from a touch of Get Off My Lawn, but it's not for me.
    Anyway, in summation. I think that all of the 1e settings and a couple of the later ones in their earlier sandboxier forms were golden. I think that just about anyone would be hardpressed to play a long campaign in one without at least some dissention in the group. That's why I only run homebrew. Sadly, my homebrew world was begun in RQ and Stormbringer, and the older I get, the less open to other games my players tend to get (at least in my current group, who are all guys I gamed with in high school when we primarily played dnd, and are really gaming more for nostalgia purposes since I moved back here to go to grad school). Oh well, at least I love 1e ad&d...with ascending AC :)

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  39. Wally
    it makes sense that gamers would be upset at having their world knowledge challenged. Where can they feel safe if not in their (precious) fantasy worlds? What could be more upsetting than being unsettled in the one environment in which they expect to be free of criticism?

    The poor dears... Torn from their mother's teat!

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  40. I love this discussion. I had a short, sweet D&D playing period in the winter of 80/81 and developed a fondness for Oerth, where we felt we could just fill in the blanks (and there are many in that original box set). I didn't play the game at all for years save for a couple nostalgic sessions (RP games were not cool for women at that time, now nerd-dom is all the rage) My re-introduction to RP games was the Neverwinter Nights computer game on my mac which is set in Forgotten Realms, as are most of the online RP worlds, so, though it wasn't my first choice, I got to know this new setting pretty well. My main complaint is not the huge exegetical literature, but that so many people take it so >seriously!< People nitpick over the mating habits of Gnomes, or the number of market stalls in Illusk or whatever and it's treated with the same utmost seriousness (and barely veiled anger over dissent) as a forum discussion over 16th century Florentine architecture.
    So - I've found that it really comes down to the gaming group- some people take the flood of TSR generated stuff with the utmost seriousness -it >must< be used... or other, more to my taste, cherry pick the stuff they want and make up the rest. If Drizzt is useful, use him. If Rary or Drax the Invulnerable make sense in your Forgotten Realms 'campaign', then use them instead.

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  41. Personally //i would never run agame in Greyhawk, sine its fans are very annying when entering cannon mode. :)

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