The last time I checked in on Faerûn was back in the waning days of the 3.5 Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, which of course is the roleplaying game that begat The Forgotten Realms, Ed Greenwood’s popular fantasy setting. The world he created has changed a lot since then, in part because the Realms always changes dramatically when there’s a new edition of Wizards of the Coast’s iconic RPG. It’s how they showcase, and explain away, the revised rules, and these seismic shifts (sometimes literally) often extend into the associated line of Forgotten Realms novels.
My first introduction to the Realms was in high school, in the days of Advance Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition. After 1st Edition’s boxed set made the campaign setting famous, the various cities, factions and deities of Faerûn were updated for 2E in a hardcover campaign accessory by Greenwood and Jeff Grubb titled Forgotten Realms Adventures. The book also summarized the world-changing events of the Avatar trilogy, a series of novels that chronicled the Time of Troubles when gods were expelled from their celestial abodes and made mortal, resulting in a totally reshuffled pantheon.
What I remember most of Forgotten Realms Adventures was not the revised game rules, but the fact that the book was more sourcebook than statistical guide — more “fluff” than “crunch.” It gave me a love for the setting’s cultures and customs that went beyond hunting monsters and seeking treasure and endures today.
A new book from Wizards of the Coast, Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms, is a lot like that volume. The 192-page hardcover, priced at $39.95, was released this week at a time when the game’s 5th Edition (currently dubbed “D&D Next”) is in development and active public playtesting. As such, it’s one of those game products — like the recent release Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue — that is lighter on rules but loaded with the little details that really help to flesh out the wider world. (Wizards of the Coast graciously provided a copy for review.)
So if it’s not full of charts and stats, what’s in it? At last we get a complete look at life in the Realms for everyday folk as well as heroic adventurers. You’ll find a handy guide to the speech of the Realms, as well as topics for discussion in any tavern and a look at the twisted politics of the land. How do so many disparate faiths — many of them evil — get along in civilized kingdoms and the wild? This tome offers opportunities for players to flesh out their own characters and gives Dungeon Masters an inexhaustible well of ideas to spur those players on to high adventure. And while it’s definitely a Forgotten Realms product, gaming groups in any setting can draw upon these ideas just as easily to provide a well-rounded fantasy experience.
Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is packed with Greenwood’s own original notes, many never revealed before, as well as unpublished descriptive material and observations from his alter-ego, the great wizard Elminster of Shadowdale. Greenwood also shares sketches and maps and other scriblings, as well as sage advice for running your own adventures in the world he created. It’s a fitting addition to the bookshelf for any collector of Realms lore, and a good primer for those just starting out on adventures in the lands of Faerûn. In short, it’s a love letter to the Realms from its own creator, and to the fans who have raised up his personal campaign’s setting to greatness and keep coming back for more.