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Greenwood's Realms

Forgotten Realms creator Ed Greenwood looks back at the origins of D&D's most popular world.
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I first heard that question voiced aloud when I was very young, in the schoolyard, by a girl speaking to other girls (if any of them had known I, a boy of the decidedly “uncool” bookish nerdy sort, was within earshot, the question would not have been asked). At the time, I sniggered. Not at the perfectly understandable desire to join a club, nor the allure of being part of something special...
Over the years and many, many conventions, I’ve met a lot of lonely gamers. Folks who don’t live within easy reach of a gaming group that can assemble to battle dragons or the legions of evil or evil undying lich-kings every weekend, or as often as they’d like. If they’re lucky, they can scare up ONE friend who shares their love of fantasy or sf or gaming or all three. They walk around large...
It all started with taxes. Legally avoiding them, that is. The sort called “Customs duties,” to be precise. Back in those dear gone days, Canada (I’m Canadian, born and lifelong resident) let returning citizens legally import goods worth a paltry pittance (little more than a tank of gas in your car) if you were gone from Canada for 48 hours, and two hundred-something dollars if you were...
Many early game play forays into the Forgotten Realms were library “mini-campaigns.” That is, free programs provided to the public at the public libraries I worked at (first at the Don Mills regional branch, and later at the smaller Brookbanks community branch). Aimed at young adults, though I stretched that a bit when both bright children and interested (or suspicious-of-witchcraft) adults...
The burgher himself unlocked her shackles, making a grand show of producing the right key from the thick ring at his belt. The oldest, most ornate, and most worn of the bunch. He gave it to two of the younger men and waved at them to free the prisoner, taking himself well back and away to watch them struggle with the old locks. And as the heavy metal cuffs fell from her wrists to the stones...
These days, when running the Realms outside of a tournament, playtest, or one-shot convention situation, I wing it. By now, I know the world through and through (or at least my version of it), and the players are driving the story with what they want their players to accomplish. However, there was a time (albeit over forty years ago) when I as a DM not only spent about four hours of world...

D&D General Not Another Cunning Plan

Writers sometimes plan things, when spinning fiction. And sometimes those plans even work out more or less as intended, but that’s another topic, for another day. Just now, let us consider merely the ways of planning—and they are many. One of those many ways is to ask, again and again as the narrative unfolds, “In this scene, what does Character X want? And what does Character Y want, or is...
Whether we’re talking about real-world politics or playing in an ongoing fantasy roleplaying campaign that uses an established shared setting (like the Realms or Golarion or Krynn), there are ways of “playing nice,” and there’s also behaviour that’s not considered nice. Breaking the rules, some call it. Running around smashing things is generally considered not nice, though it does tend to...
We’ll bid adieu to Rethmar this time, by augmenting its recent events and what’s unfolding in town right now—that is, as the PCs tarry in Rethmar—and a little more of What’s Whispered About, locally (that is, behind-the-scenes intrigue and lawlessness beyond the remnants of the Claunkrar Coster). We’ve already established that nothing of any great significance has happened in Rethmar...
I’ve been adding depth and colour to the Realms for decades, and from 1986 on, have been joined by an army of talented folk making the Realms richer and deeper. Sometimes we’re guided by a big, overarching story or adventure we’re telling, and sometimes we’re filling in little spots on the map by hanging adventure hooks on them, like an angler adding hooks and lures to his or her hat, to have...
So we’ve spent two columns breathing life into Rethmar, which started as just another dot and name on the big, big map of the Realms. And, frankly, I did the bare minimum for anyone except flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants DMs. Yet the key to a great D&D campaign is player agency; through their Player Characters, they decide where the focus of play is put, and moved to, and what time around...
So we have our bones for Rethmar, the basic “what’s the place look like, and who governs it, with what enforcement” stuff. Now, onto the lore that makes the place come alive. That I actually did first, surfing as far as I could on the ideas that came to me, the “what stories can I tell here?” before I turned around and derived the bones (last column) from.
So how to turn a name on a map of the Realms into a place that “feels real”? Well, I start with an idea in my head of what’s there—and regardless of whether I’m developing a locale for a story or for gaming adventures, from that base idea I leap straight into what gamers now call “adventure hooks.”
One-shot adventures, like binge-watching a great mini-series, can be fun, but sooner or later any FRP gamer will want to try a campaign, a sequence of interconnected adventures where the stakes—and hopefully achievements—can be higher.
So the Forgotten Realms began ten years before I first saw those initial three booklets of D&D, as an imaginary world for one young boy to explore by writing stories in. Stories written to entertain myself, that usually flowed from something I’d read written by someone else, in a “So what happened next?” fashion.
It’s the spring of 1965, and in an unassuming house in a back corner of the ritzy North York neighborhood of Don Mills, a tall, thin, shy geek of a boy is sitting in the dimly-lit den of the family home, scribbling tiny words in pencil all over a piece of paper.

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