Friday, March 26, 2010

Realms and Remembrance

Former TSR designer Jeff Grubb has posted a list 31 interesting facts about the early days of the TSR-published version of the Forgotten Realms. As with his previous post on the "secret origins" of the Marvel Super Heroes RPG, there's a lot of interesting stuff here, most notably (for me anyway):
13) I contributed Festhalls to the Realms. Ed’s original city maps had a high population of brothels, which made them inadvisable to publish. Our choices were rename them or rekey all the maps. I came up with the festhall name, which by definition spread out to handle a multitude of sins (feasts of both foods and flesh, and a bit of day spa added as well). I am very aware when someone else uses them in a fantasy novel.
I've always considered "festhalls" to be a perfect example of the kind of sanitization of D&D that frequently drove me away from the game in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. I understand the logic behind it, but it bugs me and, worse yet, it contributes to a false impression of what the Realms are actually like. To be clear, I don't blame Mr Grubb for this either, even though he's the immediate cause of the existence of festhalls. I certainly don't think he should have "made a stand" back in 1987 over something as comparatively trivial as this, even if I think the decision on the part of TSR's management was a poor one.

Thanks to Dan at Sword and Board for the heads-up on Mr Grubb's post.

46 comments:

  1. I like to refer to the brothers in my games as "pork palaces."

    Really, it's ok if they sanitize stuff for the little kiddies. My diseased mind can come up with plenty of disgusting and degrading ideas all on it's own for my games.

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  2. I agree with Brunomac. In hindsight, the hedging they did was okay by me. Mainly because I could usually read between the lines.

    I agree that sometimes the flavor of the setting suffered because of it, but I got better about it.

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  3. "Ed’s original city maps had a high population of brothels"

    Considering Greenwood's repuatation as a full-on perv, does this surprise anyone?

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  4. Actually, Ed's rep as a full-on perv only makes me worship the man more. Zak and his porn blog are only playing catch-up to the great Elminster....

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  5. But seriously...

    I never understood when anyone got all frothy about changing the name of devils or demons or brothels or whatever. A conversation would go like this:

    Frothing at the mouth old timer: "They changed the names of devils and demons and brothels!!!!"

    Me: "So? We still call them devils and demons and brothels"

    Frothy old timer: (pause) "They changed the names of devils and demons and brothels!!! ARRGGGGGAHHHHHH!"

    Any wonder most old school guys get no respect anywhere?

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  6. Kids are not offended at the sight of countless violent deaths, but they sure would be at the sight of a street hooker...

    Tell me about an "adult" game...

    Well, that was TSR's choice, after all. No wonder I never liked AD&D2 and the Forgotten Realms.

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  7. Any wonder most old school guys get no respect anywhere?

    Yes, this must be why ...

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  8. Why did I predict that as soon as somebody brought up the fact that brothels became festhalls, that somebody would say "Ed is a perv". :(

    You apparently can't win either way.

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  9. One time I went to a festhall with 50 gold, looking for a good time.

    The ladies took a collection and paid me 50 platinum to leave.

    I don't get no respect. I don't no respect at all!

    (with most sincere apologies to Mr. Dangerfield)

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  10. You apparently can't win either way.

    No, you can't. I've never really understood the disdain for Ed. Most of the things people find objectionable about the Realms were the creations of other people, often at the directive of TSR, not Greenwood, whose control over the published version of the setting is close to non-existent. But I guess he makes a convenient whipping boy for gamers who disliked the direction that TSR took D&D in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.

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  11. Not okay with changes like these. Among other things, every time you add a made-up name you lose tone and immediacy.

    But then maybe I just suck at reading between lines, and everything is supposed to mean everything else.

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  12. JRT wrote: "Why did I predict that as soon as somebody brought up the fact that brothels became festhalls, that somebody would say "Ed is a perv". :("

    I answer: it wasn't the brothels became festhalls' that I focused on, it was "Ed’s original city maps had a high population of brothels". The fact that you KNEW that someone would say something is proof enough WHY someone would say something. He has a reputation as a pervert, plain and simple, and you know it.

    @ James: I'll admit I'm not a fan of the Realms, but my dislike of the setting has nothing to do with Ed's high creepy factor, which was actually much more visible in the Realms stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor.

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  13. Well, isn't the game marked for ages 10+?

    For my part, I have no problem calling a brothel something else or even eliminating them from a world entirely.

    I never understood how the presence of folks who can point at something and make it explode was fine, but the fact that brothels were called festhalls was going to spoil your suspension of disbelief.

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  14. Fest Halls kind of make sense to me as a get all your fun in one place, like a cruise ship is today. YMMV

    Besides I've never been bothered by sanitizing D&D all that much. Gary and his gang were Middle Aged but a lot of the customers were Middle School. Cleaning it up to placate the real buyers (the parents) made sense in a commercial way.

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  15. Part of me wants to see a poll on the "Are you okay with sanitized D&D?" question, because I'm astonished at how many commentators defend it.

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  16. I would not mind my son reading a book that had the word "brothel" in it, as my home has dictionaries that include same. I would prefer that neither one gives a particularly graphic description of what goes on in one.

    my preteen head failed to explode when exposed to the line art in the Ad&d1 monster manual.

    Just the same, I can't fault TSR/WoTC/Hasbro for controlling the level of content. It is a tough business, and often there is little ground between financial failure and bestseller in publishing. Rated PG/G movies tend to sell more tickets than Rated R because people can take their kids. It would be nice to have "adult content" game supplements, but we can't fault the primary publisher for shying away from these.

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  17. I don't see the problem with "sanitizing" a product that is primarily aimed at children.

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  18. I would like to see the 100% Greenwood, pre-TSR Forgotten Realms.

    Even with all the changes, the 1987 gray box is pretty cool. It'd have been even cooler if it had been 100% Ed.

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  19. Funny, Mentzer's Expert Set (the supposed kiddie version of D&D according to some) mentions brothels among its list of potential town locations (p. 37).

    I distinctly remember not having my head explode, my morals corrupted, nor my parents huffing and puffing because the idea of brothels in a game I was playing as a 12-year-old.

    Course, I never got into the Realms. How pervasive are those brothel/festhalls?

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  20. How many 13 year old girls saw "Pretty Woman".

    That said i need to read more of Ed's non Forgoten Realms stuff. My limited exposure is to CM 8 "The Endless Stairs" awesome cover horible module.

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  21. it probably makes sense to me overall just because "genericity" (generic-ness?) lets the DM do what he wants with the material. in some places in my campaign world, there's no concept of prostitution. in other parts, its ubiquitous.

    BUT-- my problem with "festhalls" is maybe it doesn't sanitize but sugar-coats. If a teenager can read between the lines, I wouldn't want him encouraged to believe that brothels were "festhalls" and that the inmates were having as good a time everyone else.

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  22. I loved the Realms in the Grey Box days and before (I would dutifully photocopy each and every FR article out of Dragon and keep them in a binder). I, too, can't understand the hate. FR is a terrific setting.

    I've got to wonder, though; who was the Wiccan TSR employee? News to me.

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  23. The fact that you KNEW that someone would say something is proof enough WHY someone would say something. He has a reputation as a pervert, plain and simple, and you know it.

    But the only reason I "knew it" is that I've seen other people comment on it on the Internet. The "proof" is just a whole bunch of people who are usually dissing FR in general, usually the same people who like to blame FR for everything from changing the game to pushing Gygax out.

    From what I've read of the man's articles, novels, etc., I have not seen this, and I still question why people think this of him. I have never seen anything in his penned novels or gaming supplements to make me think otherwise. I've seen more outright sex in other novels like Piers Anthony.

    It makes me think some of the Greenwood critics are either (a) making fun of the way he looks in real life and/or (b) assuming TSR's making FR NPCs be critical to meta-plots and novels an indication of him being anything from a Mary Sue writer, a egomaniac, or have some psychological weakness. I get really sick of it.

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  24. This also puts a new perspective on EGG's use of profanity in the Gord books--something that most of the TSR stories (at least in the 1980s and early 1990s) avoided completely. I notice since the first Gord story appeared in Dragon 100 Gary wasn't afraid to use that kind of language. I wonder if that was his way of rebelling against the more PC moves towards coddling the adolescent. (He toned it down a bit after a while, but I remember never thinking I would ever hear the word "shit" in Dragon until that story).

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  25. Have you ever heard any female gamers describe meeting Ed Greenwood? I have and it's kinda creepy.

    I have nothing but respect for the man as a writer, but from first hand accounts I'd also say he's earned his rep for being a bit pervy.

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  26. Oh, those old schoolers, forever frothing at the mouths, saying the same imbecilic things over and over again while people make eminently reasonable statements in an attempt to sway them from their wrong-headedness. What IS it with the froth, by the way? Couldn't you guys just wipe your mouths every once in a while? I mean really, presentation counts!

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  27. "Oh, those old schoolers, forever frothing at the mouths, saying the same imbecilic things over and over again while people make eminently reasonable statements...."

    So you and James have NEVER heard anyone EVER throw a ridiculous temper tantrum about renamed Devils and Demons? Have you just got internet access? Or did you just start gaming, like, a year ago? Please.

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  28. Personally, I avoid any setting that overtly uses things like brothels, orgies and openly debased acts. Especially since I usually game with my kids and a younger crowd but also it is something I just don't want to see in a game.

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  29. "So you and James have NEVER heard anyone EVER throw a ridiculous temper tantrum about renamed Devils and Demons? Have you just got internet access? Or did you just start gaming, like, a year ago? Please."

    Did it ever occur to you that your original example is just plain dumb?

    You have somebody complaining about a corporation's editorial practices and its effect on the character and quality of that corporation's creative output.

    Replying, you have some clueless smartass using a variation of "Well, in my game..." as if the original gripe had anything at all to do with any one gamer's specific campaign, which it manifestly didn't.

    I'd be annoyed, too, if the person I was speaking to was, either through absolute pig ignorance or pathetic desire to look snarky-cool, arrogantly tossing out retorts to arguments I never even made.

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  30. "Personally, I avoid any setting that overtly uses things like brothels, orgies and openly debased acts. Especially since I usually game with my kids and a younger crowd but also it is something I just don't want to see in a game."

    I guess for me it comes down to the fact that this has always, always, smacked at least a little of the DM describing it getting off a bit at the table at my expense, which is unwelcome to say the least.

    I mean, mob polyamorous tranny hot oil orgies (masks optional) might well be the only thing you do when you're not running this game for me, but please, PLEASE, still try to keep the two separate, because I'm just not comfortable being part of your sexuality.

    Based on his more riske' interviews and the many accounts of fans unfortunate enough to attract him, it doesn't seem unfair at all for this gross cliche to come to mind when Greenwood's name is mentioned.

    That all being said, I love some of his work.

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  31. Goofy haircut and pervy rumors aside, I wish Greenwood would just abandon the Realms and start something new; make a world closer to his own ideas and let it spill out with a mature rating on the cover. These days, it's the in-thing to have sex and violence in a fantasy setting( i.e. Westeros).

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  32. "So you and James have NEVER heard anyone EVER throw a ridiculous temper tantrum about renamed Devils and Demons? Have you just got internet access? Or did you just start gaming, like, a year ago? Please."

    I'd love to respond to your statement, Badmike, but I can already feel the froth beginning to form at the corners of my mouth, and that means I'm just going to say the same thing over and over again with no counter to your very reasonable argument, so there's not really a point, is there? You win again!

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  33. Replying, you have some clueless smartass using a variation of "Well, in my game..." as if the original gripe had anything at all to do with any one gamer's specific campaign, which it manifestly didn't."

    Will, the next time one of your replies make sense will be the first...

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  34. "...so there's not really a point, is there? You win again!"

    Don't worry, I'll try and be humble about it.

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  35. "Based on his more riske' interviews and the many accounts of fans unfortunate enough to attract him, it doesn't seem unfair at all for this gross cliche to come to mind when Greenwood's name is mentioned."

    Links? Cmon if you are just gonna make up something, at least give it some zing. Did he try to flash the interviewer? Did he honk a fan's boob? Try the motorboat? Leer at someone after a they made a statement and intone "That's what SHE said!" really loud? Most of the guys commenting on Ed's "perviness" want us to think he did something so awful that words can't describe it, because they never do...describe it, that is.

    Mind you (like Will) these are the same guys that think Zak's porn show is "Teh roxxors!"

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  36. I never really noticed the absence of brothels in Forgotten Realms. I think we just assumed that they're there but for some prudence reason not mentioned.

    I was something like 15-18 years old when I mostly played in the Realms, so I don't think they would've blown my mind. Anyway we were using the RuneQuest city encounter book (which name escapes me at the moment) to provide color even in AD&D, and it had some prostitute encounters, so we had them there anyway.

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  37. Hey guys, lets all take a step back here okay? Relax, we're on the same team.

    Regarding Ed's uber NPCs, I read the first of his "prequel" novels of the Knights of Myth Drannor 'Swords of Eveningstar'. It wasn't good. But that's beside the point, I don't value Ed for his novels, I value him for his creations. Those very same NPCs who give the Realms LIFE. They and their connections and histories have always evoked the Realms as REAL to me.

    Anyway, after I read this book (in which he uses characters up to and including the King of Cormyr in the same action scenes, and on a par with, the "low level" PCs), I had an epiphany. Ed's home campaign is narration heavy, he is telling a story. Whether you agree with that style or not, his players LOVE it, so good for them. But I think he didn't set NPC levels, and when asked to, he set them based on how RENOWNED a character was for his role. So, the King was a 20th level cavalier! But he wasn't much more effective in a fight than Ed's 1st level PCs.

    Anyway, sorry....long winded and a bit rambling. Point is that I think its something of an "accident" that some of his NPCs are "uber".

    And as far as setting Khelben 10 levels higher than the PCs, one must remember that his earlier home game involved the 'Company of Crazed Venturers'. They were all eventually high level (unlike the Knights), and they were wild and wooly, and they eventually DID take over his game. They ARE some of the uber NPCs. How Old School is that. Mordenkainen anyone? Robilar?

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  38. Maybe I'm alone in thinking the following:

    I'm less upset over something like changing a whore house into an adventurer's clubhouse than to learn that they went as far as creating two new goddess rather than upsetting the wiccan population of American (all 23 of them).

    I've also never understood how some people get all upset over devils and demons being turned into planar aliens, but don't care that Lizardman got changed into Lizardfolk. I would think all forms of PC would be equally annoying.

    I'm also surprised that they decided to have a merchant republic be the spot where DM's could drop their campaign in, and not an obvious place like Cormyr which is your typical king and kingdom place.

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  39. "I'm less upset over something like changing a whore house into an adventurer's clubhouse than to learn that they went as far as creating two new goddess rather than upsetting the wiccan population of American (all 23 of them)"

    Be fair now: They are WAY more angsty teenage girls between 14 and 16 than that. Maybe even thousands. :)

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  40. "Mordenkainen anyone? Robilar?"

    EGG is dead, so I suppose you should be addressing this question to Rob Kuntz? Or were you a part of this campaign?

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  41. To many people, RPG are GAMES, GAMES are for KIDS and thus, RPG are for KIDS.

    That statement is wrong, of course, but this is a convenient shortcut.

    Someday, TSR noticed their customers were mainly teenagers, so they adapted their products to their much younger audience. What? Game companies are here to make money, after all...

    So they "sanitized" their game.

    Sanitized from anything close to sensuality or sexuality, but of course, not from any kind of violence.

    Someone said "hypocrisy"?

    As Delta wrote, a poll would be interesting...

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  42. > hey are WAY more angsty teenage girls

    I think teenage girls are now vampires, not witches :-p

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  43. JRT - I can only speak for myself, but when Greenwood comes up, I like to make fun of EVERYTHING - appearance, creepy behavior, shitcan writing, and boring attention to cliche on a grand scale.

    I knew he was a legend. But you never said he was a BORING legend!

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  44. @Veil, remember, they didn't split the goddess for the Wiccans, they just renamed one of them. Then they split the goddess in order to avoid upsetting the crazy gamer zealots who had maps that showed temples of Tyche.

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  45. Will, I don't follow your comment.

    I was addressing the Old School gamers who know where Mordenkainen and Robilar came from.

    They were PCs.

    Now they are "uber" NPCs in the original old school setting....even back when it was new.

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  46. Sanitizing D&D certainly contributed to its downfall, however, much they would sanitize...we male gamers always looked for something to smirk about. As our games were an extension our own adolescence for us - festhalls were something that we could read between the lines and make it our own...by that we would populate it with whatever colonized our imagination - which maybe I am unique but in my teen years - that was sex. The thing that put a damper on that behavior was when the rare female gamer would join the fray.

    So, I think, it is the same today, because games today are so throughly integrated the raunchiness is not so much an effort of game companies sanitizing their games as much as women now playing an active role in society including gaming. Whereas, when this hobby was a boy's game - it reflected that mindset.

    Another contributing factor, is that as 40 or 30 something...it is perfectly natural to be able to freely talk about sex. Whereas, 30yrs ago, we still finding people f*ck on stage (as in Hair) very distributing - so while maybe some of the founders (led by the artists) were objectively pushing the boundaries...society was equally pushing back.

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