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    Review of Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms by Wizards of the Coast

    For many fans of fantasy role-playing games, the defining characteristic of your game is not so much the D&D edition you’re playing, but rather is the campaign setting where your adventures and stories take place. Some gamers have fond memories of playing their own home brewed fantasy settings, while others can hearken back to a time where Greyhawk was all the rage. But for many fans, their Dungeons & Dragons experiences would not be the same if it was in for a certain wonderful world called the Forgotten Realms.

    My own first experience with the Forgotten Realms was at a GenCon back in the late 1980s. During that GenCon, I was seeking sage advice on how to create a fantasy world for my own D&D game. I attended several seminars during the convention on world-building: mapping, creating cultures, and all the manner of activities needed in order to create a game campaign setting. One of the seminars I decided to attend was hosted by a certain chap named Ed Greenwood, who was going to discuss details about his Forgotten Realms campaign setting. I’d read his articles in Dragon Magazine over the past several years, and was a really fascinated by the depth and breadth of the Realms. But when this bearded man walked into the room, dressed in robes and wielding a massive staff, and began to speak not as himself, but in the sonorous voice of Elminster the Arch Mage, I didn’t know what to think. But as members of the audience took turns standing and posing the most detailed questions about the Realms to this masterful sage, and you receiving back the most amazing and detailed answers, I was completely enchanted.

    Following that seminar, I went down to the Exhibition Hall and immediately bought my first box set of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting.

    More than three decades have passed since that amazing seminar, and if I myself again hearing the words of the great Elminster, not spoken this time, but coming from the pages of a new book. In Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms, the famed campaign world which has been part of so many D&D players’ experience is brought in a fresh focus, and with details never before seen in previous works!

    Elminster’s Forgotten Realms

    • Design: Ed Greenwood
    • Editing: Susan Morris & James Wyatt
    • Cover Illustrators: Jesper Ejsing (front); Tyler Jacobson (back)
    • Interior Illustrators: Ed Greenwood, Eric Belisle, Julie Dillon, Rick Drennan, Wayne England, Randy Gallegos, Ralph Horsley, Tyler Jacobson, Michael Komarck, Howard Lyon, Patrick McEvoy, William O’Connor, Lorraine Schleter, Mark Tedin, Beth Trott
    • Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
    • Year: 2012
    • Media: Hardbound (192 pages)
    • Retail Price: $39.95 ($26.37 from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Greenwood-Presents-Elminsters-Forgotten-Realms/dp/0786960345?&linkCode=waf&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])

    Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is a new source book of the Forgotten Realms containing unpublished material and never-before-seen notes by the setting’s creator, Ed Greenwood. This new content is presented in a system neutral fashion, and is appropriate for any edition of D&D, Pathfinder, or any other fantasy role-playing game which uses Faerûn as a setting.

    Production Quality

    The production quality of Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is exceptional. The content is presented in easy to read format, with an engaging and often whimsical writing style, and sidebars consisting of entire pages of what appears to be notes, drawings, and maps created by Ed Greenwood himself. While the editors did a decent job of trying to organize material, the monumental volume of the details contained in this new work almost certainly presented a Herculean task to keep it in line.

    The book itself has a solid and heavy cover, giving it a real tome like feel. Within the book, an elegant gold scroll work borders the pages and a faded yellowish parchment like effect around the edges continue to build on the tome motif.

    From the striking cover art to all the beautiful internal illustrations, the artwork selected for this book truly enhances the reading experience. It would appear that most, if not all, of the artwork are original commissions for this book, and include a number of drawings by Ed Greenwood which were found in his Realms’ notes.

    It’s all in the details

    There’s an old saying that “the real story is in the details”, and if that’s the case, Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms is telling us one monstrously huge story. This new source book feels like it has more details about Faerûn than any three Volo’s Guides combined. What makes this book different than previously released content is that it delves more into the details of daily life in the Realms - social conventions, commerce, religion, and magic - rather than concerning itself with countries and political borders, maps and monsters.

    The book is divided into six broad chapters, with an introduction by Ed Greenwood. The author opens with a discussion of the origins of the realms, how it has been evolving over time, and how it has been utilized by Dungeons & Dragons community, as well as numerous fantasy novel authors over the years. And of course, no major tome of source material about Faerûn would be complete without a pointed commentary by the irascible Elminster himself. Both a forward and afterward contain opinions from the Arch Mage of Shadowdale about the content that “Ed of the Greenwood” provides in this book. Thankfully it appears that Elminster is not too displeased with his work… this time around.

    The six chapters of Elminster’s Forgotten Realms cover six fairly broad topic matters: Life in the Realms, Laws and Orders, Hearth and Home, Money Matters, Gods and Followers, and The Art. But from there, the author delves into incredible details regarding a number of topics under each general heading, and in fact there are so many details that this review can hardly scratch the surface of the content in this book. All one can really do is mention a few of the major highlights within each chapter that this reviewer found particularly interesting - but again, I must stress that this is it a mere fraction of the lore about the Forgotten Realms found within these pages.

    In the first chapter, Life in the Realms, I was really taken in by the section on Realmspeak. The various forms of slang and regional colloquialisms demonstrate just how in-depth the author has taken the lore of the Realms. And the section on herbal remedies, medicine, diseases and poisons will almost certainly fire the imaginations of many characters and dungeon masters alike. And while the chapter about Laws and Orders contains interesting details about the Cormyrian and Waterdhavian legal system, the later section on The Secret History of the Zhentarim, complete with a typed and hand drawn page of notes from the author of the Network as of the Year of the Prince, is truly priceless content for any DM using the Forgotten Realms for their game.

    The chapter on Hearth and Home deals with a wide range of topics, from architecture to home heating, and to the nature and quality of inns and taverns. But my favorite part of this chapter was a discussion on various cuisines, cooking practices, and drinks they can be found in the Realms. I had to chuckle when I read that coffee was well known in the Realms in a many different locales, and I don’t think you’ll ever look at a Starbucks quite the same way again given it’s a sigil-like symbol hanging over every shop. A little part of me could readily imagine that the chain was actually founded on some street in Calimshan!

    Chapter four deals with Money Matters, and covers a number of topics from crafting guilds, trade and commerce, the identities of famous merchant princes, and even the types of coins, trade bars, and banking throughout the Realms. The great details stuff can be found in this section on trade goods, where the author goes into some description about the rare merchandise that fetches a high price in cities all around Faerûn.

    Considering the tumultuous history of the Realms, no book about this fantasy setting would be complete without a chapter dealing with gods and their followers. One of the more interesting discussions in this chapter pertains to why folks in Faerûn put up with evil. It is a question which many DMS have had to ask themselves time and again, and the author gives some compelling and setting specific arguments for and against evil religions playing a part in fantasy society. But the bulk of this chapter looks at the various gods’ priesthoods, with a look at their creeds and secular aims, along with other interesting tidbits of lore about their worship.

    The final chapter of Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms deals with the art, or some may call it… magic! Surprisingly, this is one of the shortest chapters in the book, touching only briefly on various topics about magic and its practitioners in the Realms. Interesting highlights include a discussion of special bloodlines and wild talents in magical families, the nature of alchemy in Faerûn, and Words of Awakening which harken back to the days of the Netherese. There’s an awesome map of Halruaa, hand drawn by the author, along with a few notes about this great magical land. Personally, the brevity of this final chapter perhaps suggests trepidation by the author to reveal certain secrets about Faerûn which might earn him the ire of a certain grumpy wizard!

    Overall Score: 4.8 out of 5.0


    Ed Greenwood Presents: Elminster’s Forgotten Realms
    is an absolute delight for fantasy fans, whether you enjoyed the novels generated from this world, or had experienced it as a setting for fantasy role-playing games! For fans and scholars of Realmslore, this book represents a massive unveiling of information about the Forgotten Realms Setting which adds depth and detail to almost every facet of that world. The content in this book is completely edition neutral, and is, in fact, game neutral as well, which means it can be used and enjoyed by the fantasy gaming community at large regardless of which role-playing game they choose to play.

    The choice to include actual pages of notes from Ed Greenwood’s extensive files on Faerûn was an inspired one, and adds great insight into the mind and heart of one of the great fantasy authors of our time. So whether you are Player or a Dungeon Master, Elminster’s Forgotten Realms has something to offer you which is certain to enhance your gaming experience now and for years to come!

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 4.5
    • - Design: 4.5 (Fantastic writing; great presentation of content)
    • - Illustrations: 4.5 (Striking covers; very cool new art)
    • Content: 5.0
    • - Crunch: NA (It’s all fluff!)
    • - Fluff: 5.0 (Massive details about the setting; hugely imaginative)
    • Value: 5.0 (If you’re a Realms fan – it’s a must have!)

    Author’s Note: This author received a complimentary copy of this product for use in writing this review.
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    Last edited by Morrus; Thursday, 1st November, 2012 at 05:21 AM.

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